In March last year, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a conference on bullying prevention at the White House. He told his audience, “As adults, we all remember what it was like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the schoolyard. And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune… [But] sometimes we overlook the real damage that bullying can do, especially when young people face harassment day after day, week after week.” An expert on bullying, Dr Israel Kalman, has crafted a speech which the President ought to deliver at this year’s conference.
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Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Well, welcome to the White House. Preventing bullying isn’t just important to us as President and First Lady; it’s important for us as parents — something we care deeply about.
But, let’s be realistic: you need to give up the expectation of a life in which people are always nice to you and only good things happen to you. As long as you expect a life like that, you will be miserable. As H. Jackson Brown said, “Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.”
Even if you actually managed to live a completely problem-free life, you would grow up emotionally immature, unprepared for handling difficulty. The only way to become resilient is by experiencing hardship and discovering you can overcome it. As many a personal trainer has said, “No pain, no gain.” And as the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said in somewhat bolder terms, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
There are only two reasons anyone would pick on you over and over again. One reason is that they are angry with you. If so, you may feel that they are bullying you, but they feel you are bullying them. That’s why they are angry–they don’t like they way you are treating them. And they want to get back at you. So ask them why they are mad at you and work it out with them. Apologize if they feel you wronged them. You will not be a loser if you say you are sorry. Both of you will win.
The other reason people will pick on you repeatedly is that you get upset when they pick on you. When you get upset, you give them power over you, and all living creatures enjoy power. That’s why winning feels good and losing feels bad. So by getting upset, you are giving them the fun of defeating you and they will want to repeat the experience.
It’s essential to understand that when we get upset it feels like others are doing it to us, but we are really doing it to ourselves. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So don’t give away control over your feelings to other people. It is practically impossible to continue picking on you if you’re not getting upset. When you are in control of your own feelings, people can’t defeat you emotionally. You become a winner and they respect you more and treat you better.
The way we feel depends upon our attitudes. If we believe that people do not have the right to do certain things to us, we will get upset whenever they do those things. If we believe they do have a right to do them, we will not get upset.
I studied the Constitution. I learned that people do not have a right to hurt our bodies or property. They are not allowed to rape, rob, injure, or kill us. They are not allowed to burn our house down or kidnap our children. They are not allowed to make up lies about us to get us fired from our jobs. They are not allowed to threaten violence against us or to incite others to be violent towards us. These kinds of acts are crimes. The government is supposed to protect us from crimes and to apprehend and punish people who do them. But people do have a right to dislike and disrespect us and the groups to which we belong.
Most often when we get upset, it is because of the things people say about us. Even most physical fights begin with words. We get angry because we believe, “They have no right to say that about me!” But with very limited exceptions, people do have the right to say and write bad things about us. It’s guaranteed by our Constitution.
Our Founding Fathers were very wise people and they had a very good reason for granting us freedom of speech. It is the cornerstone of democracy and a necessary ingredient of a healthy society. Many people believe that freedom of speech gives people the right to say whatever they want as long as it doesn’t upset us. But they are naive. The real purpose of freedom of speech is to give people the right to say things that can upset us.
No one is perfect, not even the President, and we see each other’s imperfections. If we have to make believe everyone is perfect in order to avoid upsetting them, it will be impossible to help each other correct our mistakes. And imagine what life would be like if we called the police whenever we felt upset by what we said to each other!
So when people say bad things about you, even if they are wrong, tell yourself it is their way of trying to help you become a better person. For example, if they call you “fatso”, it’s not because they are trying to hurt you but because they want you to go on a diet and be healthier. If they call you an idiot, it’s because they want you to be smarter. If they call you a slut, it’s because they don’t want you to be promiscuous. Then these things won’t upset you.
When I was growing up, there was a popular saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” Contrary to what the bullying organizations are telling us today, this slogan is not a lie. It is actually the solution to verbal bullying. It teaches us the essential difference between physical and verbal attacks. If people hit me with sticks and stones, they are the ones who are hurting and injuring me. But if they insult me and I feel hurt, I really hurt myself. And if I feel hurt, they will keep on insulting me. Can you imagine how miserable I would be if I got upset whenever someone said something bad about me?
So the next time people say bad things about you, think of me, your President. If I can handle all the nasty stuff people say about me, you should be able handle the nasty stuff people say about you.
Finally, keep in mind that the Golden Rule is the solution to bullying. However, when I invoked it early in 2011 as the solution to bullying, I was doing it the wrong way. I was using it to try to convince everyone to stop being bullies. But it didn’t do any good. That’s because very few of us think we are bullies. We almost always think that we are the good guys and others are the bullies. So no matter how often and passionately I preach that people should stop being bullies, it’s not going to change them. In fact, the more I insist that people shouldn’t bully anyone, the more you will get upset when they do bully you.
Now, it’s easy to be nice to people when they are treating us like friends. The hard part is knowing what to do when people treat us like enemies. And that’s what we need the Golden Rule for. It instructs us to treat them like friends because we want them to treat us like friends. Before long, they stop treating us like enemies.
That’s what that very wise President, Abraham Lincoln, meant when he said, “Have I not destroyed my enemies when I turn them into friends?” And do you think I could possibly have become President by treating people like enemies whenever they were mean to me? There are a lot more of them than there are of me. They would have destroyed me long ago! But because I learned to treat them like friends, I eventually became the most popular and powerful person in the country!
My fellow Americans, thank you for listening to me. I want to wrap up by wishing you all a wonderful 2012. Treat your bullies like buddies and you will have a bully-free life! And don’t forget to vote for me in November!
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Dear reader, if you like this speech and happen to have access to the President or his advisors, won’t you please pass this on to them? Thanks, Izzy Kalman
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies (www.Bullies2Buddies.com), a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.