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The Pure, Ballsy, Truth.

You know I’ve realized, as adults, we do this thing.

We do this really horrific thing that, when I was a kid, I never thought adults would do.

Fictional Conversation Among Fictional Adults

SCENE 1: COCKTAIL PARTY

MARY: Did you hear about that poor girl who killed herself because she was being bullied?

LYNDA: (shakes her head sadly)know! Just awful. I remember there being “popular girls” in high school, but it was never this bad. How those teenagers could be so mean, I’ll never understand.

MARY: (shakes her head sadly) So sad. Oh, look! There’s Joyce.

JOYCE smiles, waves, and approaches MARY and LYNDA.

JOYCE: Hey ladies, what’s shakin’?

MARY: (exchanges a sidelong glance with LYNDA) Oh, not much. Say, listen. I heard your little Billy was having trouble at daycare with potty training. Did you read that book I told you about? If you follow that book, you really should be able to have him trained in a few days.

JOYCE: (friendly smile twitches) Well you know Mary, I did have time to read it, but that method just didn’t work for Billy. We went cold turkey without a diaper for three days, and he didn’t make it to the potty once. I’m afraid I’ll never get that urine smell out of my settee! HA!

LYNDA: Well, it’s hard when you can’t be home with him all of the time. (smiles sympathetically) That’s why I took two weeks off of work when I was training Lisa. Have you taken time off?

JOYCE: (remains smiling, teeth clench) Well you know Lynda, it’s just really difficult to take two weeks off when you’re running a law firm.

MARY: (laughing) I’m sure they can survive without their office manager for a little while, Joyce! Billy needs you!

JOYCE: (knuckles turn white as she clenches her cocktail glass) He has me, Mary. He’s doing just fine. Sarah is, too.

MARY: Oh, are you still breastfeeding her? (glances at JOYCE’S half-empty cocktail glass)

JOYCE: (grips harder, still smiling) She’s weaning.

MARY: (glances at LYNDA and raises her eyebrows) But she’s still so young!

JOYCE starts looking for the exit.

LYNDA: OH! That reminds me. Did you hear there was a massive car seat recall? Did you check yours? It was something about the straps not locking properly or getting too tight and strangling the babies. Have you checked yet?

JOYCE: (chugging the rest of her cocktail) You know Lynda, Paul and I decided to just throw the whole seat away! We don’t even use one now. We just throw the kids on the back dash and hope for the best! (walks away)

END SCENE.

And okay. Maybe it’s not quite as obvious as it is in the movies, but the sad truth of the matter is that adults bully. We do. We bully through our words, our judgements, our questions, our expressions. And we do it for the same reason kids do it — to make ourselves feel superior. To justify our own life choices. To kill a few minutes. I don’t know.

Bullies

But the more I’ve assessed this behavior over the years — the more times I’ve been asked why I don’t have children or have asked someone else whether they’ve ever traveled out of the country — the more I realize that it’s borne from insecurity.

If I ask you whether you’ve been to another country, what I might really be asking, deep down, is Have I been to enough countries? Am I as traveled as I’d like to be? Am I more traveled than you? 

And so, automatically, your answer doesn’t really matter. This is about me, not about you. And I’ve immediately doomed the conversation because you caught it. You caught it in my tone or the catch in my voice or the way I’m not quite looking you in the eye because I’m mentally counting the stamps in my own passport.

And while this kind of up-front bullying is bad, there’s something even worse – reactions to perceived bullying.

See, most of the time, I really am just curious about whether you’ve traveled. Maybe I’m trying to get to know you better, so I picked a topic of conversation I know a little something about. Or maybe I’m trying to help you out of a rut or motivate you to try something new. And if you take my question as a judgement and get defensive about it or think I’m showing off, is that my problem?

Or is it really yours?

Maria Kang has been all over the media in recent months for posting this photo on her Facebook page:

exercise17f-1-web

In an attempt to motivate and inspire, Maria posted a photo of her super fit self with her three young kids and the caption, “What’s your excuse?”

As an italics addict, I know where she went wrong. She didn’t emphasize the word “excuse.” So instead of reading, “What’s your excuse?” many women read, “What’s your excuse?” Where some people chose to interpret it as a challenge, others chose to interpret it as a taunt.

The result? Backlash. Cyber bullies. People calling her disgusting, accusing her of using her kids to self-promote, and claiming she must have had surgery to achieve those results. Basically, insulting her morals and her integrity, and why? Because of their own insecurities.

She had a brilliant response:

What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.

And while here it’s taken out of context of the rest of her apology, this is pure, ballsy, truth.

When someone asks me a simple question, like whether or not I have kids, and my immediate reaction is one of defensiveness – I can’t believe she made such a big deal about me not having kids! — I know that I’m the one who made me feel upset. Not her. It’s because of my own insecurities about the decision.

Or when the Lululemon founder says his pants don’t work for all body types and women get defensive, maybe they’re really feeling insecure about their own bodies. Maybe lashing out at the head of a multimillion dollar corporation is easier than doing the work to change — either their appearance or their negativity about their appearance.

Because the truth is, if women showed themselves just a modicum of the love and respect they deserve (the love that they, for some completely inexplicable reason, keep asking for from founders of multi-million dollar clothing companies who couldn’t care less), they wouldn’t get defensive. They’d either be working towards achieving the body they want, or they’d own the one they have.

Adult bullying only exists where negativity flourishes. Your own negative thoughts only lead you to bully or feel bullied. And the only way to end it is to change the way you think, just a little bit at a time.

Do you ever get defensive when someone asks you a simple question? Do you ever ask someone else a question to make yourself feel better about your own insecurities? Pour yourself a drink. The first step is admitting we have a problem.

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Katie

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Comments

renpiti
Reply

We used to get that type of bullying here on planet The South all the time, only it was blatant. When someone asks you about marriage, kids or religion and your self-assured, confident reply that you don’t need any help making your own decisions in your life elicits immediate judgement and verbal backlash, it’s kind of obvious what the intent of the initial question was. I usually try to laugh it off and show them I don’t need their validation to live my life my way, but it still irks me that people still feel the need to corral you into their way of thinking/being.

Katie
Reply

You used to? You don’t anymore? I used to get angry when people judged me under the guise of innocent questions (and sometimes still do), but now for the most part, I’ve learned to answer their questions honestly and without humor/apologies/excuses. Q: How many kids do you have? A: I don’t have any. You? Q: None?? How long have you been married? A: Seven years, you? Q: You’ve been married seven years and you don’t have kids?! A: Yep and nope. How about you?

I’ll expand if the person seems genuinely nice and just curious, but these are the answers if I can tell the person is just being a bully. Eventually they have to give up. It seems like the less explanatory I am, the more obvious it is that my mind won’t easily be changed because they do something differently.

Colleen Brynn
Reply

So this might be a bit of an overshare but I’m going to go for it.
I grew up being bullied in school. In high school, things were better because I went to a new school, but I think my awkwardness from the bullying had already been formed. Luckily for me, I’m mostly an introvert and I make my own happiness. It wasn’t until grade 12 that I felt I had a solid group of friends nailed down. One of those people was my “best friend”… something I had always wanted. Over the years, this person became less and less of a best friend. She would tell me things like “You say things thinking you mean one thing and they come off like this… you really need to be careful with what you say.” I also had a roommate once who told me “You say things that don’t need to be said.”
And yes, both of those people are no longer a part of my life. Not in the least.
Unfortunately, it is for this reason that I over-think just about everything I say, especially when it comes to speaking with strangers or people I don’t really know. I often assume they judge me and that they are analyzing everything I say, when I know this isn’t really the case. Having said that, when you talk about saying something to someone as a way to challenge them or just have conversation, when I think I am doing this, I often walk away wondering if I’ve offended the person for the exact reason you describe. Yes, maybe it is their issues – about kids, about a relationship, about travel, about education, about a job or their body. But I’ve had people in my life (bullies, arguably) who have made it almost impossible for me to even have these kinds of conversations guilt free. I find it inspiring when a woman like Maria Kang can post that photo and then stand by her choice. Along those lines, I think there’s an epidemic of apologies affecting women. We (I) apologize before everything I do. Why? I don’t know.
I am aware of this, at least, and I work on it. This summer, the goal I wanted to achieve was to “give less shits” … about everything. About what people think about me, about the way I speak (because Lord knows I already put enough thought into it), about the way I look… all that.
I get it. Some people aren’t going to like me. Some people are even going to be mean to be because they are jealous or insecure. I get that. I think the real problem is when there is so much damage from bullying that someone can’t even stand on their own two feet… even when they are right, even when they have nothing to apologize for.

Katie
Reply

There is no such thing as oversharing here. Seriously. Just dig back through some of my way past posts and you’ll see. ;)

I am so very sorry for the torment you had to deal with as a kid. I was never really bullied, but I was never really noticed. I was more of a wallflower who stuck to my small group of friends. The few times mean things happened to me, I was devastated. Wrecked. I can’t imagine having to deal with that on a regular basis. And that’s why I want to make it clear that kids being bullied is VERY different from the bullying adults dish out or perceive. Like you said, this is where the insecurities we carry through to adulthood develop. When we’re kids, we’re pure. And then things change. And people affect us. And they change the way we feel about ourselves.

The good thing is that as an adult, you can indeed “give less shits” (love that, by the way). It will just take time. Like meditation, you need to catch yourself every time the negativity starts creeping in, acknowledge it, and then let it go. You don’t need me to tell you what an accomplished woman you are. You’re absolutely radiant and loving life. And there’s (almost) *nothing* – aside from supermodel looks – more threatening to other people who are dealing with their own insecurities about the way they live.

I know you didn’t ask for my advice, but I’m giving it anyway. (A problem I’ve been told – more often than I’d like to admit – that I have.) Keep working at it. Keep giving less shits. And, most important, keep speaking your mind. The world needs people who can eloquently speak truth. When you don’t run into resistance – when you don’t run into bullies – you’re not doing it enough. :)

Katie
Reply

Oh and P.S. you are SO right about women apologizing too much. I’m guilty of this as well. Oh jeez… that’s a whole other post!

Stephanie
Reply

Hmm. Got to say, I had seen that fitness poster and definitely read it as *YOUR* and thought, “Psh. Judgey cow.” Didn’t really take it further than that though.

And the Lululemon guy I defo have issues with: if you have a crap product that’s really expensive, you don’t defend it by insulting your customers. It’s a jerk move. My massage therapist, who is super fit and thin and does marathons said she had to exchange a pair of running pants four times because they kept wearing out in the thighs after just one run. And the guy is saying that they just don’t make their running pants for the kind of woman whose thighs might rub?

I don’t know. This stuff doesn’t upset me, but I tend to read it and wonder where people’s basic sensitivity is, I suppose. I rarely take things personally myself, but I tend to take umbrage with things in defense of other people who might be hurt by them, if that makes sense. I would like to see people just try to be nicer, I think.

Oh, and in answer to the questions at the end, no and maybe.

Katie
Reply

I wish I had sat on this post for a night instead of writing it in an hour and hitting “publish.” Because the point I’m trying to make (although not very adequately based on the discussion on my Facebook wall) is that I would like to see people try to be nicer as well – *including* those who feel offended by the likes of Maria Kang and Chip Wilson. If we’re going to be 100% honest, Ms Kang very likely was trying to stir up some response. If she *only* wanted to motivate, she probably could’ve done better. And Mr. Wilson? If you watch the video, you can see him digging himself into a rut. He doesn’t know how to answer the question and therefor word vomits all over the place. He’s probably a cocky ass, but I don’t think he meant (as any smart business person would feel) to offend his customers. So when we get all defensive and offended and start turning ugly on these people, it only hurts *us.* So what I was trying to say is that Maria Kang was right – we CAN learn to control the negative thoughts that come out of our minds. Instead of using that energy for anger and lashing out at these people, we can pull it back and not, in a sense, turn into one of them.

Stephanie
Reply

:) Fair enough. I’m taking a class right now and there was a bit about emotional intelligence and that’s a big part of it – learning to control your emotional responses: not just hide them, but actually change them to make them appropriate for the situation.

Katie
Reply

Wow, they have classes for that?! Sign me up! In the meantime, I just try to work on it every time I notice it happening. And I’m a pretty reactive/emotional person, so I’m getting a lot of practice.

Roxanne
Reply

Katie, I read your post yesterday and am so proud of you – and Maria Kang. Thank you for giving voice to this. We women are masters of speaking out of both sides of our mouths. We speak eloquently of uplifting one another “You Go Girl” and in the next minute take a passive-aggressive swipe. It sucks.

When I saw Maria’s photo my very first split second reaction to it was, “wow! what the heck excuse do I have for not looking like that? she has 3 little kids!” It was the exact reaction she was looking for. Who knows why one person interprets differently than another? I believe it is as you say – internal and unique to each of us. Mom is right, you cannot please everyone all the time. Ever. So don’t even bother trying. The haters hate and it has very little to do with us, everything to do with them. Sadly, I’m not even a little surprised she received the backlash has has. Her reply was brilliant and, I assume, authentic and true to herself. It is a fantastic lesson.

As women get a little older, we somehow organically begin to care less about what others think, say and do. My last big landmark birthday took me to a decade I always considered OLD. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a couple of things; I am still 32 in my head (yippie!), and really sincerely honest-to-goodness care way less about what others think than I ever have! Such freedom! I do not have to allow others to litter my heart with their negativity. I bring this up because it speaks to your point at the end of your post – about changing the way we think. Did I really have to wait wait for a birthday to make this magic mind shift? I don’t know for sure, but don’t think so. Talking about it, the same way you have here, is a great start. If each one of us talk about being Teflon, we might give someone else the courage do the same. After all, it just takes a little attitude shift, right? And lots of courage and practice, but it IS doable!

You go girl!

Katie
Reply

Thanks, Roxanne! Like I said to Stephanie, i wish I’d hashed this piece out a bit more before hitting publish, because I think a few people – especially on my Facebook page – missed my point at the end. They thought I was trying to defend the type of “bullying” that comes from a taunt or an insult, when really I was trying to call to attention the bullies that the “victims” turn themselves into when they emotionally react. I’m glad you understood!

I think you’re spot-on about caring less about what others think as we get older. I still hold back a little on this blog because I’m afraid of a cyber bully backlash and I’m not yet incredibly self-controled when it comes to not reacting emotionally. Like you said, it takes practice. And the “talking out of both sides of our mouths” problem you mentioned is exactly the type of thing we need to get past. How liberating would it feel to just be authentic?!

Dennis Hong (@DennisHHong)
Reply

So, Katie, what kind of stats are you getting on your blog these days???

Kidding. :-)

But seriously, I think this is a great topic, and it looks like people have addressed specific examples, so I’m going to (try to) speak more generally. Basically, to me, communication always goes both ways. Yes, how you respond to someone — especially if you do so defensively — is indicative of your own personal issues. But other times, people really can be assholes without even realizing it. And it’s all too easy to say, “Well, I didn’t mean it that way. I can’t help if you’re being overly sensitive.”

Point being, I agree that it’s important to check how we react to other people’s comments. Awesome.

At the same time, I also think it’s pretty shitty when someone says, “If you respond poorly to me, that’s your problem, so fuck off.” Especially if a lot of people are reacting similarly, then it very well could be that you’re the one being an asshole.

Katie
Reply

Ha! WTF Dennis?! You’re such a jerkface. I know your blog is better than mine. (Honestly though? Not much different than they were a year ago… I’m nothing if not consistent. :) )

Now. I agree with everything you said. “If you respond poorly to me, that’s your problem, so fuck off.” <– This person belongs in my first category of the adult bully, and the person who reacts to that person by bullying back (think cyber bullies mostly), is my second category of adult bully – the reactive type. The average Joe victim of a real life bully of the first type is not going to react in such a way that makes him a bully in return. Most reactive bullies are responding to *perceived* bullying — comments, memes, youtube videos, whatever that they find offensive for whatever reason. They use this perception as an excuse to turn into assholes themselves (regardless of whether or not the offender is an asshole) by issuing threats, calling names, and basically losing all of their shit.

My point at the end is that *those* are the feelings and reactions people should learn to control – not out of respect for the bully, but out of respect for themselves. When you allow a bully – perceived or otherwise – to turn you into an asshat, you’re really not doing yourself any favors. Also, your example of the person who says, “If you respond poorly to me, that’s your problem” is *not* who was I talking about when I said, “Is it my problem, or yours?” In that example, I was mostly referring to perceived – not blatant – bullying. The person who asks the prickly questions… sure, he might be an underhanded bully, but wouldn’t your life be so much better if you were at such peace with yourself that you didn’t *have* to respond?

Dennis Hong (@DennisHHong)
Reply

Gotcha. Just to clarify, though, my “If you respond poorly to me, that’s your problem” quote is basically Mary Kang’s response to the masses who disliked her poster. I was trying to point out that, while she certainly put people “in their place,” I didn’t think it was a particularly nice response, either.

I guess my point is that when it comes to interpersonal communications, it’s hard to stay who “started it,” and who’s just reacting. From my own personal experience, tiffs erupt when small misunderstandings accumulate back and forth, and keep escalating until someone finally explodes. So, it’s difficult to trace it back to who was the original one to be bullied, and who was the original bully. And in fact, I think both parties are usually contributors. Does that make sense?

Katie
Reply

I see what you’re saying, but I guess even though Kang’s response was basically “that’s your problem,” I believe there’s a big difference between her “bullying” act and that of a real in-your-face jackass. In other words, is her somewhat taunting meme (depending on the individual who reads it), one deserving of such a blown-out reaction in comparison to someone walking up to you and calling you fat and ugly? If she meant it to be taunting, the negative reactions got her what she wanted – publicity. And if she meant it to be motivating, did she really deserve all the nasty backlash? Either way, the reactions did NOTHING for the people who reacted negatively. It just brought out their ugly.

So while I understand what you’re getting at about fault, the overall point is that finding fault doesn’t matter. She could be a total bitch, but reacting to her form of bitchiness only makes YOU suffer. It causes stress, aging, physical ailments, high blood pressure, whatever the case may be. But if the offended parties actually absorb her words, she’s doing them a favor by telling them how to avoid these ailments in the future. Of course if they don’t, she’s only making them react more.

So in this case, I still tend to agree with her quote. And it’s interesting that while I perceive that quote as inspiring (reminding me to let go of negativity if I really want to make changes in my life), while others see it as a mean response. Just another example of how changing the way we think can really start changing our lives for the better.

Dennis Hong (@DennisHHong)

Just another example of how changing the way we think can really start changing our lives for the better.

You mean, like so? ;-)

Katie

I’m going to take this as a concession.

And if you accuse me of plagiarizing, so help me, Dennis. ;)

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