One chapter in the book talks about how people shield themselves with various forms of armor as a way to avoid feeling vulnerable.
… directly from Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (page 167)
“THE SHIELD: CYNICISM, CRITICISM, COOL, AND CRUELTY
If you decide to walk into the arena and dare greatly, you’re going to get kicked around. It doesn’t matter if your arena is politics or the PTO, or if your great dare is an article for your school newsletter, a promotion, or selling a piece of pottery on Etsy – you’re going to be on the receiving end of some cynicism and criticism before it’s over. There may even be some plain ol’ mean-spiritedness. Why? Because cynicism, criticism, cruetly, and cool are even better than armor – they can be fashioned into weapons that not only keep vulnerability at a distance but also can inflict injury on the people who are being vulnerable and making us umcomfortable.
If we are the kind of people who “don’t do vulnerablity,” there’s nothing that makes us feel more threatened and more incited to attack and shame people than to see someone daring greatly. Someone else’s daring provides an uncomfortable mirror that reflects back our own fears about showing up, creating, and letting ourselves be seen. That’s why we come out swinging. When we see cruelty, vulnerability is likely to be the driver.
When I say criticism, I don’t mean productive feedback, debate, and disagreement over the value or importance of a contribution. I’m talking about put-downs, personal attacks, and unsubstantiated claims about our motivations and intentions.
When I talk about cynicism, I don’t mean healthy skepticism and questioning. I’m talking about reflexive cynicism that leads to mindless repsonses like “That’s so stupid,” or “What a loser idea.” Cool is one of the most rampant forms of cynicism. Whatever. Totally Lame. So uncool. Who gives a shit?”
I have teenagers, so I hear about some form of cruelty on a regular basis, but it never gets any easier to process. The other night after looking for Emily, I found her crying on the front porch. She didn’t want to talk about it, so I sat with her until she did. About a year ago, a girl at the school decided to go after our family (we deal with this a lot) and started sending out texts from a blocked number to my daughters and eventually to their friends as well. These weren’t just childhood taunts … these were evil messages. Emily has a fear of not being as smart as the other kids in her class, so the unknown texter sent her messages calling her dumb and telling her that she should just kill herself. Beth is really skinny, she always has been, and she is very self conscious about it, so the unknown texter sent her messages calling her anorexic and ugly and telling her she should just kill herself. The texts to their friends were along the same lines … calling one fat, calling one slutty, calling another one crazy, all urging them to end their own lives.
As an adult who has endured a lot of crap, I can look at them and tell them to just ignore it, but I also know that it isn’t that easy. So I sat on the porch with Emily for hours, listening to the whole story and telling her what I’ve learned in life … that the people who find it easy to be cruel are very often hiding flaws in themselves and the only way they can feel better about what’s wrong with their lives is to make somebody else feel worse, which is the exact definition of a bully.
She told me that the girl NEVER says anything to anybody’s faces, she hides behind fake Facebook accounts and blocked texts … which says a lot. By the end of the conversation, Emily was smiling again and she assured me that if she gets any more messages that she will tell me about it and we will go from there. Eventually this girl will move on to another victim when she stops getting responses from my daughters and their friends, but that doesn’t really solve the bigger problem of teenage bullies turning into adult bullies.
I guess the answer lies in all of us. When you feel yourself starting to be cruel, think about why you are doing it and stop yourself and find some way to teach that to your children. Don’t tolerate it between siblings or friends or spouses.
What a wonderful world it would be if we were all working towards the greater good and working on our own issues, instead of pointing out the flaws in others.
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