Some months ago, I was shocked with the news about the death of Rebecca A. Sedwick. Not because she had been bullied at such a short age (12) and had taken her own life, unable to stand the facebook pressure for more than a year. Unfortunately, that was nothing new. In the era of social media, cyberbullying is a common currency…Rather, what impressed me most was the nasty and unappologetic comment of her main tormentor, Guadalupe Shaw, a 14 year old girl from her school, and the reaction it caused in the sheriff who dealt with the case. It was as if, finally, a line had irremediably been crossed, and it would change the course of events forever, like an unstoppable snow ball effect in search of (ex post factum) justice, enrolling advocates like Rebecca’s ‘boyfriend’ to prevent that more beautiful young lives are lost to hopelessness and depression. As it turns out, Guadalupe was the object of physical abuse by her stepmother, Vivian Vosburg. In the words of her attorney, “she had been bullied on her own”, and is now under psychological counselling.
This sad story made me think of how necessary it is to bully-proof girls, starting by working on the gender stereotyped perception of “how a girl is supposed to behave”. When I was researching on this topic, after having been a target of bullying and mobbing myself, I got so into it that it evolved into a spontaneous training for my colleagues, that helped me to start healing. In the process, statistics confirmed something I had witness myself: 80% of bullying happens between women. According to a workplace survey in the US, this fact is rooted in childhood socialization and accumulated frustration of girls to be unable to express what they really think, especially when it is about anger and rage. For instance, a boy would be typically more encouraged to be outgoing and assertive, demanding what they want, when they want it, without any need to be particularly polite, nurturing or sensitive to other people’s needs. I have always found it fascinating how women can be the best of friends, showing so much love, solidarity and empathy. And still, be the best of enemies with other women, opening their dark side, and entering in an imaginary competition that brings up so much resentfulness and hurt to both of them.
However, workplace bullying can also happen to men. During Christmas, I went to the movies to see The secret life of Walter Mitty, a beautiful and inspiring story about living life to its fullest, going to the unknown with courage…and standing up to the bully. It made me laugh, smile, and remember that moment of my life when I did that, as well. I do not mean going to Afghanistan to find Sean Penn…(I met him in Haiti, some years later, though…:), but finding the strength inside to put a limit to the constant verbal or psychological attacks, and to strike back. That is what I call a real “empowerment moment”: the target finally shifts mindset as s/he realizes the bully is a coward who does not know how to handle his/her own pain, without hurting others.
As much as I adore the classic Christian Andersen tale “The Ugly Duckling“, I now realize that the story is missing this empowerment moment in which we would love to see the poor ugly duckling stand up to the mobbing crowd and a few individual bullies…
The practice of yoga made me resilient to many challenges in my life, but not only mine. I have seen the same process happening in other individuals and kids. It is a wonderful gift to ground you, get in touch with yourself, tune in, reflect, and act in a positive and constructive way. A gift I love to share.