As a second grader, our oldest daughter was coming home bearing the hurtful comments and actions of her schoolmates. Each night around the dinner table and before bedtime my wife and I were untying the knots of damaging lies said to her by others and, then, we were instilling the truth of who she is in God’s eyes and in her parents eyes.
For whatever anger/loneliness/emptiness that is inside the kids choosing to verbally attack her, this is what she heard:
Your hair is ugly.
Why would you wear that to school?
How could you get that question wrong?
You can’t play with us, you’re a girl.
Your teeth look messed up.
It’s only a few kids who say these hurtful comments to her, and to others.
During her second grade year, our daughter’s class wrote on a poster board about why they love her. She brought the poster board home and we hung it up for her to see each day. Some comments by her classmates written were:
Thank you for helping me with my school work.
I like it when you hug me and say nice things about me.
Thank you for inviting me to play with you at recess.
Thank you for including me at lunchtime.
I like you because you stick up for me.
So it seems that she’s popular.
Not popular in the sense because someone is pretty or smart or athletic or rich, then they’re liked. Rather, popular in the sense of both sides of the aisle know her. The bullies know her and choose to degrade and those bullied notice her and choose to be grateful.
She has influence. And influence polarizes.
Each day she was coming home with these contradicting feelings of loving others and hating bullies.
Some of the unraveling of the untruths bullies say to her is also unraveling the untruth of her feelings that she should hate bullies.
Her confusion is this: Why are bullies popular?
She’s chewing on the conundrum that bullies gain influence through being bullies, but they also grow in influence when others try to bully them. They get worse when you treat them like they treat others. So how do you deal with someone abusive like this? It’s a lose-lose if you submit to them or if you fight them.
With a high sensitivity toward American politics and with limited context to where my beliefs and values are and where yours are, just a few clarifiers:
I am not siding with one political party or another. This post is not to get people more hyper or more irate about politics. This is not a post against President Trump.
The goal of this post is to try to answer this question:
Why do bullies grow in influence by treating people the way that they do?
Some words that people have used to describe President Trump as are: bombastic, arrogant, insensitive, condescending, sexist, racist.
Other words to describe him have been: patriotic, brave, outlier, savior, Christian.
Depending on how you view him (and only God knows the heart even when we see the tweets and hear the speeches) how do we explain his meteoric rise to him being so popular?
(Again to use the word popular doesn’t mean he is liked by so many people, but that he is polarizing, that everyone knows of him and his actions.)
Have you thought about how President Trump became President Trump?
Some attribute to it that Trump is/has been a successful businessman. At a young age he became involved in some of the largest and most profitable business projects in Manhattan, being labeled as the Big Apple’s best known developer of New York City.
Others will say Trump’s rise in popularity will be because he’s got money out of his ears, supposedly, and he can bank roll his own campaign without having any major donors tell him what to say or how to vote.
Though it’s being disputed on whether or not his claim to be worth 10 billion dollars is true , no one is disputing that he has an enormous treasure chest at his disposal to fund his own political career.
Others will comment on President Trump’s rise because he’s a master-self-promoter. Not only has he made the Trump brand into the reality TV shows, The Apprentice, and The Celebrity Apprentice, but President Trump’s name is everywhere. Hotels, golf courses, steaks, ice skating rings before politics his name was everywhere.
And yet, there have been successful businessmen and businesswomen in the past trying to run for president who have not been nearly as popular as he is (Ross Perot, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and others). Bloomberg is 17 times richer than President Trump is.
How can Trump’s popularity be explained?
Maybe I can share a reason no one I’ve heard is talking about.
In 2011, a psychological study was published in the journal, Social, Psychological Personality Science.
What researchers did is they asked the participants to watch videos where people went about their daily activities, like working in a cubicle, being in a meeting, working on a task at home, taking a coffee break, catching up with a friend over lunch – lots of things people do in everyday life – the participants in this study watched people living their every day life.
After watching these exact scenarios, the participants were asked, from top to bottom, which people they watched should get to make decisions and get crowds of people to listen to what they have to say.
In one study, customers were shown going into a new office, pouring themselves a cup of coffee from a coffee maker that had the label, Employee Coffee Only on it – compared to those walking into the same office, pouring themselves a cup of coffee from a coffee maker that was for the general public. So one customer walks into a new office and breaks code by getting coffee from an employees only coffee maker and another customer walks into the new office and gets coffee from the general coffee maker.
The participants were asked to rate those who did not break the rules verses those who did. This was their perspective:
Rule breakers were described as being “more in control” and “more powerful” when compared to people who didn’t steal the coffee or break accounting rules.
In a follow-up experiment, participants watched a man who sat outside at a table of a small business café, putting his feet up on a chair, tapping cigarette ashes all over the ground as he barks at the servers taking his order and those who are entering in and out of the café who accidentally bump into him.
The participants viewed this inconsiderate man as someone who would be, “more likely to get decisions made and able to get to people to listen to what he said,” – compared to the participants who saw the video of the same man in a separate video who was being pleasant and friendly outside of the café.
The concluding evidence the study found this:
People who are willing to be rude, condescending, and mean towards other people are considered, on average, to be more powerful and more likely to get things done as a leader. – (“Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power”, Social, Science and Personality Journal, January 26th, 2011)
I think this explains, more in part, why our current President, or your domineering boss, or your harsh spouse or the bully at school is liked by many people and yet is also despised by others.
Either way, it’s why they have influence.
Remember the moment back in the 2016 election debates when Republican candidate Jeb Bush’s campaign ended? It was during a summer debate when Jeb stooped to Trump’s level and began personally attacking him. That wasn’t who Jeb was. Jeb was known as a gracious candidate and I think maybe more people would’ve rallied around him after being attacked by Trump if he had taken the high road.
Stooping to Trump’s level is also what the Democratic Party is currently doing gearing up for the 2020 election.
And it’s not going to work for the goals they have.
This is more than just advice in the political world.
Our instinct when we are made to feel little and less-than is to fight back with words when we’re attacked. My motto in high school, since I weighed 100 pounds wet, I was going to talk big and have bigger friends. If someone wanted to beat me up for how I made fun of them, then my big friends would be the bouncers I needed.
As adults and hopefully as mature Christ-followers, we have got to know by now that you don’t beat bullies at their own game. You don’t beat a bully by out-bullying the bully and you don’t help a bully by allowing them to run all over you whenever they want.
With all of the anxiousness over politics, I still think the Christians and the church in this nation, we are going to do the right thing and trust God, honor our leaders, pray for them and extend a hand of help for those in need. I still believe Americans will do the right thing when they are called to step up.
Just ask Sherriff Jim Clark, who on March 7, 1965, almost 55 years ago, unleashed dogs, tear gas and officers with clubs against 600 unarmed pacifists who were on the edge of the Edmund Tettison Bridge on the outskirts of Selma, Alabama.
Unfortunately for Clark, unlike all of the other days where he brutally, violently commanded his men to beat innocent people who were African-American descent, this time the world was watching. The Civil Rights movement, a Christian movement, did not win because of a display of power and aggression.
People come around when a light is shone on the bully and the world is watching and sees who the bullies really are.
What Jesus would say about how to relate to any abusive person in power is the same thing He would’ve said about what happened at Selma:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:38-39
Jesus is the wisest human ever to live and He tells us to turn the other cheek, to model Him when He stood before Pilate and was silent, suggestive on what to do when speaking with Judas, respective next to Heord, truthful with Pharisees – because Jesus knows you never out-bully a bully.
If you think President Trump has influence, compare him to Jesus’ influence. Both are polarizing, both have been accused of being helpful and harmful, and yet One of them was inclusive in love.
Christians are called to out-surrender bullies in love and endurance, and then, in the light, with the eyes of others on you, as their hearts are changed from stone to pity, they will stand up for you, against the bully, as they are inspired by the steadfastness and resolve that you have.
No political candidate/boss/parent/spouse/classmate is Jesus. All have flaws. But as we encourage each other on how to deal with overbearing people, the bully is simply a bigger personality able to knock every single person off who stoops to their level. They do this not with love, not with grace, not with kindness, but with their steamroller ways of divisiveness and isolation.
In the church by-laws of where I serve and worship, this is our statement when it comes to bullying:
In relating to each other and others during the week, God does not provide grounds for bigotry, bullying or hate, as we fully believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect and dignity, regardless of his or her lifestyle. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated as sinful and are not in accordance with the Scriptures nor the doctrines this church.
Instead of being a bully and instead of being quiet when bullies choose to press their power over others, we choose inclusiveness. We find common ground and agree. We see different ground and we love anyway.
Ask my 2nd grade daughter. She knows these two truths:
Being kind is greater than being insolent when it comes to being noticed.
Being kind is great than being insolent when it comes to having a legacy.
Thanks for reading. You are loved.