Orr: Bully one oh one
July 10, 2016
Any grade school kid can tell you these days — bullying is not acceptable. There are assemblies and workshops and films and classes that help students of all ages navigate that most menacing of tribulations in grade school years: The Bully.
We teach kids standing up and fighting back (verbally) is the way to go/be. Still, for those of us of a certain age, when confronted with a bully, we still try to find elegant solutions. We try to avoid conflict, make peace. And sometimes there is a day you wake up and realize that it just isn’t possible. Sometimes you just have to stand your ground and face a bully down. It is hard. Especially when they have something in their control that can damage your work, your reputation, your very name.
We know all about Mean Girls in junior high and we know and even assume it is an ugly phase. It doesn’t scar or hurt any less. But in adulthood, when politicians or officials or those with the ability to hold power or promotion or livelihood over another, flex their ignorance or just mean-spiritedness, The Bully becomes the conversation, the topic, the focus and all other good things that could be happening get sucked into the vortex of perceived power/authority.
You may read this and think this column, as Carly Simon sang decades ago, is about you. It is about The You who lurks in all our lives. Meddles, muddles and generally messes with us, just to see us uncomfortable. We see you. We really, really see you. You have no place to hide. When you threaten and demean or try to diminish any one of us, you have touched us all. Because the people who are kind, always outnumber the bullies. And once they are called upon, they will diffuse, in a variety of ways, your thoughtless, heartless, soulless attacks.
I have, for nearly 25 years, belonged to a club in town that I swore I would never join. I mean when my grandfather was president of his Rotary Club in Riverside, California in the 60s, he fell right over one day in the buffet line with a heart attack and died. Right after women were allowed in Rotary in the 90s I was invited to join. I hesitated. I told them I would belong and serve but never ever, ever, serve on the board. They have honored that request.
And it is easy to be complacent about the club and what we do — sure, international projects like the polio eradication (long before Bill Gates stepped in). And fresh water/sanitation projects globally, and dictionaries in schools and locally, hosting exchange students, grants to non-profits and — long ago — creating a park and, really, a bunch of other cool stuff.
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And every now and again, when I am nominating someone new to join the club, I re-read with an open heart, what we ask of new members (and all members) and it is pretty simple. Started back in 1940s it is called the Four Way test and you don’t have be a Rotarian to think about what it means. It asks the Rotarian to ask themselves four simple questions before you proceed with an action, decision, conversation in your life
Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
It sounds simplistic on its face but all powerful statements are. Over the nearly 25 years I have been a part of the organization I have heard it oft repeated. We don't say it out loud it each week, as some clubs do, but it influences our decision making. And the emphasis has changed for me over time. Is it the truth? That has been a part of my personal questioning for all the years I have been in Park City and been a journalist. It echoed that newsroom nugget: Its hell when the truth gets in the way of a good story.
The truth is just the truth, difficult and unpopular as it may be.
The two questions that seem to mirror one another — do and don’t. Is it fair to all concerned? Is it beneficial to all concerned? The all concerned makes you consider not just your own view of what fair or beneficial looks like but all concerned. With any luck it makes you consider compromise and empathy and being The Other. Being fair can be less daunting to adhere to, than is this beneficial? There have been a few rare occasions when we have invited someone to leave the organization when these questions, based on their behaviors, couldn't be honestly answered in the affirmative.
And finally, Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Is your action, conversation, intention, even, building goodwill? Goodwill. Again open to interpretation, but worthy. You assume it means worthiness/goodness will come from what you are about to do or say or suggest or act upon. Is there betterment attached? Is spending your time and energy in this action worth not only your efforts but the greater community's investment? And will it build better friendships? This assumes you already have friendships that could be richer and deeper with thoughtful, intentional actions.
When you throw the shade of the Rotary Four Way test over a bully it is entertaining to watch what can happen. How it diffuses nonsense. How it provides clarity. How it crystallizes what matters and as a result, who matters.
This is a season of discontent, a summer of discontent, and we fear, a fall/election season of discontent. In the process of dealing with bullies writ large and confusing rhetoric flying fast, if you need a few defining questions, grab those from Rotary and weigh them the next time a Bully bounds in your direction. They will help you stand your ground and face the Bully down. There is strength in numbers … and in truth. Every day. Especially Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City
Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Dor Eccles Center for the
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