By Kellie Schorr
“Are you waiting for a flood?”
I was never bullied as a kid.
When the topic of bullies comes up and I reveal I was not a target, people generally look surprised. I had all the attributes of “bully bait.” I was the quiet “new girl” (when you move every two years, you’re always the “new girl”), with flat brown hair, little aptitude for a curling iron, and no interest in makeup, cute clothes, my pretty pony, or boys. I played chess, read comics, and watched Star Trek re-runs. I didn’t like birthday parties but had a favorite dinosaur (stegosaurus).
I came from a chaotic, dysfunctional family where I was the only child at home trapped between two desperately unhappy adults. I didn’t go through a teenage girl “growth spurt.” I went through a 15-year constant elevation that landed me at six feet by my Junior year and kept me in jeans that were never quite long enough.
Hence, the flood question.
As luck would have it, I always seemed to have an answer. For everything I went through, I was an incredibly happy child.
“Hey, New Girl, are you waiting for a flood?”
“Yes! I’ve got a life jacket in my backpack.”
Weak vs. Vulnerable
Bullies pick on the perceived weak kid. They torment the one who doesn’t fit in or know how to get out. The unsupported one with bad parents, clueless parents or powerless parents. The one who tries too hard, and the one who has given up entirely. Aggressors rant and strut, threaten and finger-point, destroy what you love and walk away without taking responsibility for their action, or your pain.
Although the flood question would follow me from kinder to college, I began to notice something interesting. People only asked me once. When I didn’t cringe, cry, or fight but answered with a cheerful demeanor, they walked away unfulfilled and never bothered to ask again.
Why didn’t they bully me? Although I was often terrified of my home situation, praying to be invisible because it was the safest thing I could imagine, I had no fear of anyone or anything else. At that time in my life, I was distinctly vulnerable, but I was not perceived as weak. So, I fell right off the bully radar.
I want to be clear. It is never someone’s fault when they are bullied by another person. We cannot control a bully or the bully’s actions. However, the presence of bullies in our world gives us all a need to pause now and then and look in our own heart. Every human being has times of weakness, and situations that leave them as vulnerable as a raw nerve. It’s nothing bad, and it’s nothing to feel shame about. It’s me, it’s you, it’s all of us at some point.
On the path of equanimity, where clarity and acceptance are the guard rails of the bridges we must cross, being able to see the difference between weakness and vulnerability can help us deal with the many bullies that surround us, political or personal, even if that bully is our own mind.
“Hey, Nerdy Girl, are you waiting for a flood?”
“All signs point to yes.”
Too Much and Not Enough
In a book describing her own experience growing up in a family of corrupt and calloused bullies, Psychologist Mary Trump offers the most perfect short explanation of child abuse I have seen in a lifetime of study. It not only serves to explain the mechanism of abuse, but also gives us a tool to help us see where the line between weakness and vulnerability lies.
“Child abuse is, in some sense, the experience of “too much” and “not enough.” Mary Trump, Ph.D. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.
As surely as a Dakini hook-knife cuts away delusion, this understanding of excess and deprivation can cut away our own fear and damaging self-talk. It is important to remember throughout your introspection to reject the dualism of “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong.” When you hit those times where you “just can’t anymore” or when you’re acting in ways you don’t desire, it’s valuable to know, without judgement, if you are being weak, vulnerable or something else entirely.
“Hey, Tall Girl, are you waiting for a flood?”
“Don’t be afraid, I’m a good swimmer. I’ll pull you to shore.”
Reaction vs. Action
Weakness is too much reaction. It’s being constantly triggered by outside events.
Vulnerability is not enough action. It’s the inability to take positive, empowered steps forward through a situation.
Weakness is too much projection. It’s pretending to be stronger, smarter, more able than you really are.
Vulnerability is not enough protection. It’s a lack of physical, emotional, or spiritual safety to be authentic.
Weakness is too much rejection. It’s pushing away, name-calling, or excluding anything that challenges or defies what you want.
Vulnerability is not enough acceptance. It’s a situation where all the parts of you are not allowed to simply be present as they are.
A constant state of defensiveness and aggression, weakness is characterized by how we externally respond to things affecting us. Vulnerability is the internal understanding of our fears, our limitations and our needs. Both states need to be brought onto the path. We need to make peace with and understand our moments of weakness when we lash out, push over, knock down or drag our own heart through the mud. We need to embrace and nurture our vulnerabilities so we can generate enough courage to open our heart.
“Hey, Quiet Girl, are you waiting for a flood?”
“No, I’m not waiting. Can’t you see? It’s already here.”
The more you watch what bullies do and the better you understand the path of right action, the more you will realize people who chose to bully are the weakest of us all. They merit boundaries, require consequences and accountability, and need both our clarity and our compassion.
Compassion can sometimes leave you feeling vulnerable, but it doesn’t make you weak. It’s been my experience that people who can exhibit radical compassion in the most challenging situations have a strength without measure.
In fact, they are the ones I want be with when we finally get that flood.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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