Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to deal with practical terms

So was I and here is practical advice on dealing with it. Make them your best bud.
It's not as crazy as it sounds.
The news is full of stories lately about bullies and there is a lot of fuzzy advice out there that really doesn't help all that much, speaking from my experience that is.

What credentials do I have to even discuss this topic? Well, experience for one thing. And PhD parents (child development and psychology) who thought their children were a pair of lab rats. And dealing with a lot of animals. That last isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, because we're all just glorified animals, and as Cesar Millan always says, "There are no bad dogs, just people in need of retraining." It all amounts

Here is a relevant truism.
People live up (or down) to your expectations. You expect them to be mean and they will be more than happy to accommodate you.

Side Note: Have you ever noticed how happy-go-lucky people always seem so lucky? Expectation, baby. If you expect to be lucky and you expect to be happy, chances are good it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure, no one gets 100%, but you get more than your average bear who expects to fail or be unlucky. (This is relevant. Really.)

So, back to the advice bit. I'm going to have to intersperse this with my own story so that it kind of makes sense. I hope.

Back in 8th grade, my gym locker was directly beneath this hood's locker. (In my day, we called the folks who smoked, cut school, and were generally bullies, "Hoods.") She made my life a living hell for the first few days.

Eventually, even my mother noted I was not my usual self.

Side Note: There is no situation that can not be made worse by going to your parents or other person in authority.

I was reluctant to tell her (and rightfully so), but I eventually divulged just enough to get one sentence back from her that changed everything. "Smile. Make friends with her." Of course, Mom also offered to do the parental thing and makes matters a whole lot worse by going to my school, but I deftly handled this by telling her I would handle it myself. No problem. (I hate it when others offer to help me. I'm an independent little cuss. Always have been, always will be.)

The next day, when this hood showed up, I turned to her, smiled, and said, "Hi!" I may have also added, "How's it going?" It's hard to remember every word spoken 40 years ago.

After that, instead of avoiding her, pretending she wasn't really there, or any one of a number of essentially passive and fearful avoidance behaviors, I smiled and talked to her. I even went out of my way to talk to her in the hallways and around school where normally I could have safely avoided her.

She immediately stopped bugging me. Not only that, less than a week later, I found out she'd defended me against some other kids ( had no idea and really should have thanked her).

We didn't exactly become best friends, but the bullying stopped. Turns out her life wasn't all cake and roses, either. She was interesting, too, even if our friendship was pretty much limited to a few classes in school. I often wonder what happened to her, because she was traveling a very hard road. I hope her life got easier, because she was never really as tough as she made out to be.

Were my actions manipulative or fake? Possibly. I know my immediate reaction to what my mother advised was, "You've got to be kidding me!" But over time, I've realized that smiling does make a difference (there are even physiological changes that occur when you smile...but that's another story and my interest in biology coming out).

People who smile and exhibit easy-going confidence (as opposed to confrontational behavior) will almost always diffuse a bad situation. Project the idea that you like the person in front of you. After all, most bullies are greeted with fear, avoidance, and downright hatred. That's bound to make anyone hostile. If you start greeting people with affable good humor (something few see now-a-days), you'll be amazed at the results.

Lessons Learned
Cesar Millan, in working with dogs, would immediately recognize the lessons here.

  • Projecting fear, avoidance, and the attendant emotional responses is like chum to a shark. Even if you have no confidence whatsoever, you project it. Walk like you have someplace to go. Shoulders back. Plaster a smile on your face. Believe that it is possible to like any humanoid facing you, even the drooling, knuckle-dragging ones.
  • Do not avoid. That's like running away from a lion. The lion's (bully's) first impulse will be to attack and kill. When confronted, do not tense up. Relax. Smile. Show an interest in the other person. What's the worst that can happen?
Your Action Plan
So here are the practical steps.

  • You run into the bully. Smile. Stand your ground, but keep your body relaxed. Under no circumstances will you avoid the bully. Be glad to see the bully. Really.
  • At a minimum, say, "Hi." If you feel you need to say more, just ask general social questions like, "How are you?" If you can, say, "I'm glad to see you. Are you going to be in class today?" And really project that you are, indeed, glad to see this person.
  • Response. Initially, you may get a negative response like, "Why?" or "Are you crazy?" 
  • Your response. Shrug. Smile. Say something/anything that is even vaguely positive like, "I don't know, I just think you're kind of interesting/cool." Of course, try to avoid sexual connotations here or things may disintegrate. :)
  • Another negative response. The bully is probably still unsure what is going on and may be angry because of it. Expect something like, "You're a total jerk/idiot."
  • Your response. Chuckle. (I mean it, chuckle like the bully said something really funny--even if it was a terrible insult. Believe that the response was just joking around.) Shake your head and smile. Say, "You crack me up." Then make an offer like, "You on your way to class?" and gesture/wave to indicate you wouldn't mind the bully's company to walk to class.
If you persist and meet the bully's reactions with humor, you will diffuse the situation. You may even end up with a new best bud. Or not. But at least you will stop being the victim and stop projecting, "Victimize me!"

Finally, I know a lot of you are thinking, "Easy for you to say." Or even, "Yeah? Well, you don't understand. I'm miserable at school and I hate these people. I'm not happy, and I'm going to plaster a happy smile on my face and be a total fake."

That's fine. But just realize that you are making a choice when you do that. You're choosing to be miserable and victimized. The power is in your hands. Use it or lose it.

Of course, in the end, your mileage may vary. And this works in the office, too, not just in school. Dealing with other people is very much like dealing with aggressive dogs and other animals. To a large extent, their reaction is entirely dependent upon what you project. Project confidence and ease, and the others will relax, too.

Most of all, just be happy!

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