I stopped a bully the other day. He was big, he was tall, and he was rude, and he was in the face of someone shorter and smaller. Even though I’m only average height and weight, I stopped that bully. You can stop bullies, too.
It was at this “Love Over Hate” rally on Capitol Hill in Seattle last Sunday. There were about 300 people, holding signs, singing, chanting, and talking. It was peaceful and affirming.
Before I go on: I voted for Hillary Clinton. You probably figured that out, given that I went to a “Love Over Hate” rally. And that it was in Seattle.
What may surprise you is that the person I was protecting from a bully was a Trump supporter. Why would I protect a Trump supporter? Given that I voted for Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump has been given a job he doesn’t have any experience in and is almost completely unprepared for, and supports groups and causes that I think are bigoted and scary.
I protected that Trump supporter because I don’t believe in bullying in any form. When I mediate, I make sure people treat each other respectfully. We can disagree with each other, we can hold opposing opinions, we can be passionate and angry. But I don’t believe in bullying, threatening, or intimidating anyone.
This Trump supporter must have been the only Trump supporter there. He was white, about 30 years old, 5’9”, and slender. And right in his face was this older man, also white, who must’ve been 6’4”, 270 pounds, saying things like, “So what you’re saying is that you’re racist. You’re a bigot. You hate gay people. You’re sexist.” Nasty. Sneering. Hateful.
Now, I’d been listening to the Trump supporter about 10 minutes earlier, and I knew he’d been talking calmly and respectfully about why he supported Trump. So I stepped up to him. I asked him how he was doing, did he feel safe. He recognized me, and he said he was feeling intimidated. So I kept talking to him. I kept conversing with him. And the whole time, I kept myself between him and The Bully. I didn’t talk to The Bully, just blocked his access to his intended victim.
You might’ve noticed that the technique I was using is one that’s described in a graphic by the French artist Maeril that’s been going around social media (you can see the image at http://maeril.tumblr.com/image/149669302551). The technique has you use what’s called noncomplementary behavior. That means if you’re trying to protect someone from a bully, you don’t talk to the bully, not to argue with them or even to try to placate them. Instead, you act like the bully isn’t there, and talk to the bully’s target. Maeril was talking about how to support a Muslim woman in hijab who’s being harassed, but it works for anyone being harassed.
After several minutes of The Bully circling the Trump supporter, and me staying in his way, I realized that something more needed to be done. Because, at one point The Bully was saying, “I’m going to vomit on you. You’re going to have vomit all over your glasses.” Since I was in front of him, and I’m about a foot shorter than he was, I could hear all of this hate and nastiness and talk about vomit right over my head.
So, I went up to people close by, and asked them if they’d be willing to insert themselves between The Bully and the Trump supporter. Several of them did. We surrounded the Trump supporter so that The Bully couldn’t get to him. He still kept trying, though. This one time I stepped in front of The Bully, there wasn’t much space, so I was standing really close to him. He started leaning into me. I leaned back. He leaned a little more. I leaned back a little more. I remember wondering what would happen next, but I did my favorite visualization of imagining that I was as big, strong, and immovable as Mt. Rainier. At one point he said to me, “Don’t you touch me!” but he didn’t do anything, and I just stood there.
And finally, a young woman standing next to me turned around to The Bully and said, “Just stop it.” And he did!
Eventually, the Trump supporter was able to move away. I said thank you to everyone who helped form the shield.
And then, believe it or not, I actually had a fairly civil and reasonable conversation with The Bully! He was ranting about Trump, in particular about how the media helped Trump’s campaign by giving him so much free publicity. So I said, “I know! The media helped his candidacy by covering him so much. It was crazy.”
So we talked about the media and its influence on the election. And as we talked, The Bully calmed down, relaxed, and spoke courteously and respectfully.
And presently, he went on his way.
The rally was dispersing by that point, so I started walking home. That’s when I said to myself, “Holy s***! This is why I love what I do. I protected someone from a bully. I enlisted people to help, and we calmly and peacefully shut that bully down. And I found a way to guide him into having a respectful conversation!”
That’s why I love what I do. I peacefully and calmly protect people who need it, and I find the humanity in everyone.
Do you need to stop a bully? Call me!
Do you need help in stopping bullies, or want to see the humanity in someone you have a hard time understanding? Call me at (206) 930-1113, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: © 2016 Louise Penberthy.