Years ago a very good friend pulled me aside and asked me why I had verbally bullied a mutual friend… again. It was the first time that someone had called me a bully. I had never thought of myself as a bully. I had spent my childhood and teen years being the victim of bullies. Not that I even used the word “victim” back then. It had taken a therapist quite some time to even get me to admit that being the child of a physically abusive father meant that during the time I was living with him I’d been a victim of abuse, for goodness sake!
I protested—specifically alluding to the years of abuse and bullying and how I would never treat someone the way I hated being treated—but my friend didn’t let me deflect. He repeated the question. The truth is, once he had labeled the behavior for me, I realized he was right. I had been treating the mutual friend exactly the way I hated being treated myself.
And I hated myself for it once I forced myself to look at my behavior objectively. I apologized to the friend I’d bullied. I resolved not to do it again. I tried to make changes in my behavior—not just toward that friend, but to everyone. I didn’t always succeed.
I still don’t always succeed.
One of the lessons I took away from the self-examination and my subsequent struggles not to bully people or otherwise be a jerk is to extend other people slack when they are jerks to me. And not just to extend the courtesy others have extended me, but more slack than I have received. Or I should say even more slack than I am aware of, because I’m sure that I don’t notice all the times I’ve behaved less than kindly to someone.
Friends, family, and casual acquaintances had remained friends even when I was a jerk. The least I could do was to forgive other people’s occasional lapses. This doesn’t mean turning into a doormat and letting people walk all over me. Like many things in life, it’s about finding a balance. Recognize that some unkindnesses are inadvertent, but don’t enable abuse.
The last several weeks has been difficult. Several little things have going wrong in my personal life. I’ve misplaced a bunch of unrelated things, for instance. Our car was rear-ended, and then almost exactly a week later, someone broke into the car and stole an iPod, a hand truck, and a bunch of smaller things. Something has gone awry on the car stereo and it won’t stay paired with my phone, which was how I was going to stream music in the car since the iPod was stolen. My husband has come down with a cold that either won’t go completely away, or he’s caught a bunch of unrelated bugs one after the other. My own health has been a little weird lately… I could go on.
Most of it is minor annoyances that we’ll sort out. It could be a lot worse. I know and love people who are going through a lot worse. Which makes me feel whiny for even mentioning any of it.
I know I’ve been having trouble not acting all cranky on everyone. I suspect I’m failing more than I realize. I also suspect that other things that irritate me are not nearly as bad as I think they are; I’m just already cranky, so I overreact.
This isn’t a bid for sympathy. Nor am I trying to excuse anything I may have said or done or will say or do. It’s more of a reminder that everyone is dealing with so much that we don’t know about. Often they don’t even realize how stressed they are. So allow people to make small, non-harmful mistakes. Allow yourself to make non-harmful mistakes.
Everyone is a jerk some of the time. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes less so. Most are just trying to survive. Other people give us a pass every now and then.
Return the favor.