Thursday, March 19, 2015

#1000Speak: Forgive Your Bullies?

It's been three years, and I haven't forgiven my husband's bullies. I feel no compassion for them. But, my bitterness towards them is softer. I regard them with contempt and disgust, like the "trash" that I called them to their faces, but the attention they take up in my mind is limited. That's progress.

I've been reading Hasty Word's guest posts on bullying this month with interest, and here are the words (from Anonymous) that sent my amygdala into hyperdrive:
What does bullying do to a person?
It kills their spirit.
It makes them afraid all the time.
It makes them angry all the time.
It leaves them scarred and conditioned to be afraid and defensive all the time.
Even as an adult, I find myself either avoiding confrontation altogether, in real life and online — or else seeking them out and rushing in headlong because I am just so angry.
It dehumanizes a person.
For those who are not long-term readers of this blog, my husband was once a teacher in Asheville City Schools (NC). He was well-regarded by his peers and his students. In a small community like Asheville, we knew the gossip. I heard at my daughter's preschool how well he was thought of in the parent community. He received positive feedback from his supervisors. He led professional development sessions on request, he offered afterschool enrichment sessions for free, and he worked incredibly long hours. His students made impressive progress--academic, social, behavioral.

And then, suddenly, in his last year in Asheville City Schools, he could do no right. He was constantly reprimanded. If he turned in a form late, the mistake was inflated into moral laxity; other forms he turned in on time with a witness present went missing; when he produced the witness proof, he was reprimanded for involving others in his own personnel issues. He was no longer allowed to serve on committees; he was no longer allowed to offer his afterschool enrichment sessions for students; he was no longer allowed to head his popular Chess Club. He was watched at every moment for the slightest error. Tiny mistakes were described as major errors; actions were purposely misunderstood; some behaviors were entirely invented with no evidence to back them up. Perhaps the wildest and hardest to imagine limitation was that he was the only employee on campus restricted from drinking caffeinated beverages.

Why did this happen? We have no proof, but know this: my husband was the President of the local teacher's association. He had been awarded at the state level for increasing membership and involvement in the local association, and he had, the summer before his last, difficult year, led an effective movement against the Superintendent's proposal to lengthen of the school day (for those familiar with the debate, research shows a longer school day shows positive academic gains only when the community and the teachers are involved in the decision-making process). In addition, he was working within a deeply divided staff over those who were loyal to the former principal who lost her job the year before, and those who felt she had not...performed her position (never underestimate the political maneuvering in the backrooms of elementary schools).

For eight months, I watched some truly hateful people dismantle my husband's confidence and character. It is not overkill to say they killed his spirit and dehumanized him. Because all I knew to do was to urge him to be better, to be more perfect, I watched our relationship crumble. There was no perfection allowed. As hard as he tried, the farther away they moved the goalpost. He wanted to fight, and I was too scared. I watched their bullying turn a formerly cheerful, upbeat person into one whose mood ranged between anger and depression.

The bravest act of this entire year was my husband showing up for work and facing his bullies day after day after day. As they waited for him at the entrance of the building and outside his classroom door, as they trolled the halls hoping to catch him with a soda. He did it because above all, his job was to serve his students.

In the end, he lost his job, of course. None of our evidence or eloquence mattered because there is not adequate union support in a state like NC. And you know what the ultimate charge was? Bullying. Oh, the irony is deep and evidence worthless.

Three years later, my husband can't start a phone conversation with me in a somber tone without my panic rising. His response to positive professional feedback is to think, "Hey, I am worth something!" A group of people ripped us from a home we loved and jobs in which we could do good and from a sense of security that may never fully return. And not just us. They stole security from children who depended on my husband for it. The effects of bullying are permanent. 

Some of the guest authors on Hasty Word's blog this month have been beautiful, young souls who express compassion for their bullies or who have turned their energies toward becoming advocates. Maybe age makes you cynical. Or tired. All I can manage is to keep spreading the word. Bullying exists in the adult world, too. Some people never develop a moral compass.

And that's where I was going to leave it. But then came Lisa on Facebook, and I thought I'd try for understanding as a first step towards compassion. In honor of the day.

What we could never understand and what was so devastating was how former friends could unite against my husband and take such drastic action. The only explanation that seems believable is that a GroupThink mentality took over in a fractious, unhappy work setting. My husband was outspoken, and he became a lightning rod for others' angry bolts. Some people were inexperienced, naive, and unable to stand up against pressure; maybe some felt their actions would lead to more personal job security. And there was a struggle for power. But in that case I will try to remember those who bully for power often feel powerless themselves.

So maybe someday I will feel some compassion. I see that as a laudable goal. But even if I squint, I can't see it coming quite yet.


  1. That's terrible. I'm sorry that happened to your family. I myself am much angrier at people who hurt my husband and kids than at anyone who hurts me.

  2. Wow I had no idea - it is true bullying did not stop in the 5th grade it lives quite nicely in the adult world - what a shame that the next generations witness these acts.... unfortunately that fear, that broken spirit, and anger lives too perhaps self compassion should be practiced - not sure what the answer is maybe you all need is time to heal whatever it is know that these injustices are cruel and you have my empathy - being a teacher today is not easy, being anything is not easy there is always someone that wants to change it to make it better yet that same someone doesn't care who it hurts - it's unfortunate.

    Take the automatic registers at the supermarkets - it looks like fun to swipe your own groceries .but that is someone's job that was eliminated - it really is sad.

    One day you can forgive :)

  3. Wow. My dear friend, you link my name there and I think "oh how difficult that idea of walking in another's skin truly is." In no way do I imply that it is easy. Desirable, perhaps, or admirable if we can muster it, but difficult. It's something to strive for. And everyone heals in their own time. That much I know.
    In my heart, I wondered if this was your post. Even having known the story, I still can't wrap my brain around how that happens except to say that I have wondered about similar (though less vicious and obvious) things about my own experiences. One of these days, the four of us need a really good long sit-down together IRL. And no, I'm not there in our stories, either. I hope to be one day.
    GroupThink is a frightening thing, isn't it? It can do such evil. Unhappy people like to have someone to blame and they often lay blame on those who fight for what is just.
    That's the best I can come up with. I know it isn't grand. But I love you and by extension, we all love and feel for all of you and what you've had to go through as a result of that experience. Does that help?

  4. Bullying does dismantle a person's confidence. What a traumatic time for your family. Keep rising up and using the character and strength you both have. I'm a big believer in voice, and it is speaking out that not only breaks the silence, but the cycle as well. Thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Oh wow. I am so very sorry that your husband and you and your family had to go through this. It's really important to remember and point out that bullying isn't just for children. It happens with adults too. May your lives now flourish. And may none of you ever have to encounter such small minded folks ever again.

  6. What an awful thing to have to live with. I hope he has found another school system who will appreciate all of his hard work. I live right down the street, just across the SC border in the upstate and as bad as this area needs teachers I can't believe how screwed up that school district is.

  7. What happened to your husband and you and your family is abhorrent. Utterly, completely despicable on every single level, and I don't think I realised before that people who were meant to be his FRIENDS were involved. That's reprehensible.

    The thing is, my dear, (and you will have heard this a million times, but indulge one more) forgiveness is for you, not for them. It's so that you can continue your life without being constantly hooked into that outrage and bitterness. It's so that you can live free of the pain of being *there* all the time. Because to the bullies, it likely doesn't matter nor make a difference.

    But I understand you not being ready to let go of the anger. I understand if you wish them ill. I get it. It's completely explainable. 100,000,000%

  8. This is a sad story of unfair treatment. I think the whole thing about forgiving the bullies is to set yourself free of the anxiety and negativity that the bullies have imposed. They were mean, horrible jealous people. Your husband is a good man and you did the right thing moving away. In my state the teacher's union is stronger than the governor. The students are the ones who suffered and you and your family. Forgiving doesn't mean accepting or supporting. It is just letting go so you, yourself feel better. If you're not ready to do that, it's okay.

  9. I am so very sorry for what you and your family have had to go through. "...ripped from us...a sense of security that may never return." That says it all. You are in the place where I still am, and I hadn't even realized it until I started to write my post. My heart goes out to you. Beautifully written.

  10. A laudable goal, but I understand your anger.

  11. I remember when I FIRST read your blog and was learning about this. I am still sick about it. I honestly applaud your honesty. How's that with the honest feedback? (Sorry- not the time or the place to make a play on words)

    Sometimes I believe there is no 'compassion' for things like this. Maybe that is non-loving of me to say it, but I get you. I get how you can't see any plausible way to extend anything but regret and resentment toward those people.

    I had a boss that sexually harassed me and basically punished me terribly for not sleeping with him. He watched me like a hawk and wrote me up for EVERYTHING. I lived in fear and was in tears most of the time- He gave me all the extra charting work and made me work all the extra long hours etc. It was a nightmare- and to this day, I think he's an ass and can't stand the thought of him. I forgot about him until I read this story again.

    Anyway- I just can't imagine your hubs experience with this horrible twisted movement to take him down. I think I would be exactly where you are with it all. Your family LOST so much. I simply can't imagine how horrible it was.

    I'm glad you chose to write about this, Sarah. It deserves more attention.

  12. I'd like to offer a different perspective on this, one that Chris touched on, but ultimately didn't follow. These people do not deserve forgiveness, nor compassion. Compassion need not necessarily be granted to everyone.

    Here's what wasn't told in Sarah's post. One boy in the classroom had been abandoned by his father. I was the surrogate father. In his mind, he has now been abandoned twice by men who should love him because of these people. One girl cried herself to sleep for nights after this happened. Not metaphorically. Literally. Do you see it? Can you imagine the rage that might manifest in that boy as he grows older? Can you hear the sobs of a little girl struggling to understand why someone she adored was taken from her with no warning and no explanation? What if it was your child who was put with a long-term sub and felt their security ripped from them? What if it was your child who suffered academically and emotionally because of this? Let it linger -- the child's pain, the tears, and the confusion. Let it linger. Children. Were. Harmed. Let it linger a while longer. Do you have compassion and forgiveness now?

    All this and I've barely scratched the surface. I landed on my feet and then some, and so did my family. We don't need compassion. But these bullies hurt kids. Seven and eight year olds. Never forget that. In their Groupthink, naivete, quest for power / job-security, or whatever made them do what they did, they harmed seven year old boys and girls. People like that don't deserve forgiveness. They deserve a new profession and nothing more. Compassion for the kids, and kids only. The only thing that could ever change my mind about an ounce of compassion would be for these people to reach out and acknowledge how awful they were and how they harmed kids. But if it hasn't happened in three years, it's unlikely to happen ever. Which mean they have no shame and will get no compassion nor forgiveness from me. It's undeserved.

  13. How obnoxious some people can be?!! Unfortunately, I've seen it myself with my dad who was brilliant at his job but since he was honest and frank, he was penalized for not toeing the line and getting behind people who didn't want to work as hard as he did.
    It's hard to forgive but I hope your current situation will help you try and shed the bitterness. I hope your husband is now greatly valued at his new job and that he has been able to move past all that persecution.

  14. Forgiveness isn't for the bullies; it's for you, so that you can have the best revenge by living to find happiness beyond their reach. Freedom is only achieved by letting go of the anger. That doesn't mean that you justify or accept that kind of bullying. In the future, if you see it happening or are subjected to it, you should do everything in your power to stop it. Letting go of the anger, however, allows you to live without the bitterness that poisons you but doesn't hurt them.


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