Bullies and Bunny Rabbits — This Is Not Looney Tunes, Folks

Rabbits make lousy friends.

Rabbits are prolific, and generally hidden, so you don’t realize how many there really are. Lady Camp, art print by Steve Henderson

During our parental career, we have heard dinnertime stories from our progeny who have been happily socializing in a group, when one of the clutch, a coyote, starts picking on the progeny who is telling us the tale.

“You’re fat. I’m not. I’m slender and willowy. That’s why boys like me.”

“Your front teeth are crooked. Mine aren’t. They’re perfect – and white, too.”

“What ugly hair you have. It isn’t soft and wavy like mine.”

Not once, but repeatedly, the coyote darts in with a variation of the theme while the surrounding rabbits who look like friends immobilize in silence, watching and saying nothing, some afraid that they, too, will be singled from the group and attacked, so inured to one person making personal assaults upon another that this doesn’t seem wrong.

In our own case, most of the coyotes were oddly enough from good, religious families, attending all sorts of good, religious events, never taking the name of Jesus in vain in front of their parents but regularly stomping on it with their words when they were away from the authoritarian eye. This is not to say, however, that atheists, agnostics, and persons of widely divergent faiths cannot be bullies – all you have to do is flatter the people more powerful than you, and flatten the ones who aren’t.

sailboat sailing sail moonlight water steve henderson blue art

Sometimes, we are a lone sailboat in a difficult place, seeking to find our way. Moonlight Sail, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

“Did you speak up for yourself?” we invariably asked.

“No, that would have been rude.”

That one floored us.

“It is not rude,” we repeated repeatedly, “to say something along the lines of, ‘What’s with the personal comments?’ or, ‘When you’re out of the attack mode, maybe we can get on with this game/project/conversation.’”

“I was afraid that, if I said anything, she (it’s often a she, isn’t it?) would tell her parents, and since you know one another, it would ruin your relationship.”

It’s not much of a relationship that can be ruined by one person’s child standing up to another’s.

Fortunately, after years of our fruitless counsel and years of their growth and maturation, the older progeny found their voice. Recently, one of them countered an attack on her physical features by pointing out a physical anomaly of her attacker.

The rabbits in the room thawed, en masse turning not on the coyote, but on the progeny:

“How can you say something like that?”

I am to the point now, with the younger progeny, of communicating more explicitly about the reprehensibility of what the coyotes are doing, and emphasizing our unequivocal parental support of whatever actions the progeny deems necessary to counter the attack:

Gracious eloquence would be nice, but not realistic, so if that doesn’t work, and transcending the situation with aplomb isn’t possible, then two words directed to the attacker, the second word being “off,” is fine with me.

At least it isn’t an aspersion on the coyote’s physical features.

Snarky girls and berating bullies don’t just go away; they grow into insecure widgets stuck inside adult bodies who learn to finesse their attacks, which they then perpetrate upon co-workers, subordinates, relatives, retail clerks, relationship rivals, under-deaconesses – anyone they perceive to be weaker, smaller, frailer, or more vulnerable than they.

Rabbits – masquerading as friends – allow them to do so.

We don’t so much need anti-bullying legislation as we do people of backbone and character who stand up for themselves and for others. Perhaps this could start with the parents of the good, exemplary children, teaching them that what comes out of their mouth looks disturbingly like what resides in their heart.

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
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16 Responses to Bullies and Bunny Rabbits — This Is Not Looney Tunes, Folks

  1. oldswimmer says:

    My tender seventh grade daughter was subjected to a cruel test when she entered a new, large, school after we relocated to the west coast. She was encircled by a bunch of “the popular girls” and told that SuchandSuch a girl was going to beat her up after school. She was terrified. But instead of trying to evade these girls, she went, after school, with her books to a place where they were waiting for her. The girls made a circle around her (she told me afterward), and the Suchandsuch one came out and told her, “dropy your books…we’re gonna fight.”

    My daughter decided she would take whatever they could dish out, but she was not going to fight back. She said, “I’m not going to drop my books.” And just stood there, without raising a hand to protect herself. The aggressor tried everything to get her to enter in and try to defend herself. She would not, and finally the girl left her standing there, and the gang of encircling “friends” trailed off after her. My daughter was never troubled with those kids again.

    Years later, she met the Suchandsuch girl, and they acted like adults with each other, and remembered together the bad event. It was clearly, in retrospect, a valuable lesson for both of them.

    Children are such fragile folk– they are in a terrible battle to form self-confidence and self-reliance, and sometimes they resort to “fight or flight” instincts… it’s no wonder. There is nothing scarier than a raging peer group who have made you their target scapegoat.

    It’s a wonder we all grow up.

    Carolyn, your advice is sound… but I would not like to think the “________-off” is a good thing, if what comes out of the mouth is what resides inside the heart. This is a base-human-function word that is used when people are at a loss for real vocab. I would like to think I could speak from the security of a heart of truthful meaningful words rather than from a lexicon of babytalk that some people never seem to outgrow.
    (this is not to pretend that I don’t use a potty word now and again when I, say, drop a piece of mail in the mud on the way to the post office.)

  2. OldSwimmer (love that name):

    Wow — what an experience, and what a brave thing your daughter did. She must have grown up to be an exemplary adult indeed.

    I understand your concern about the “- off,” and indeed, there’s probably a reason why I never gave this advice to the two older progeny — they would have taken it! I wanted to forcibly get across to our daughter that we really, really mean it when we say that we support her for standing up for herself, and that we as her parents are not going to take the part of the enabling parents of the other child, lambasting our own for saying, “Knock it off.” Quite honestly, amongst parents like these, a child who says something as innocuous as, “Making personal comments is rude,” is treated as if she had used “- off.” So I figured, “Go for the gold, girl. You’ll get slammed just for the very action of speaking up.”

    Nice hit — you got me on my very words, in re: what comes out of the mouth is what resides in the heart. I stand by that particular advice, to that particular child, at that particular time, though — just that kickin’ screamin’ rebel rouser who plunked her stuff down in the corner of my heart. Stubborn creature.

  3. oldswimmer says:

    Didn’t intend to “hit” you with your own words so much as to affirm that we do reveal our hearts by what comes out of our mouths. If what comes out of our mouths is what someone else told us to say…it’s not quite the same.

    It’s such a good idea to talk about these things, as you did, around the family group so that when the inevitable test comes out in the bigger world, there is appropriately useful material in one’s heart already that can pop out of one’s mouth more readily when the time comes.

    I do think you gave her just what she needed: permission to sock it to the bully. Huzzah! Susan

  4. Thanks, Susan. Actually, I was impressed with your finesse, flair, and grace. You have a gift for speaking clearly, succinctly, and well.

    You know, a lot of issues get moved forwarder around family dinner discussions — much is worked through, understood, and conquered by a group of people who care about one another gathering to listen and support. Years ago there were a bunch of ads about the importance of eating dinner together — one of the few “public service announcement” campaigns that had something valid to promote.

  5. Amen. There’s a book called “Toxic People”…….I haven’t read it, but I think it’s a “how to” in relating to folks who manipulate with anger, sarcasm, poor me syndrome, etc. I do need to get it. I love how you carry such behavior to its logical conclusion……adult bullies with refined techniques.
    Happy New Year.

  6. Susan: if you do get the book, let me know what you think of it. The title alone makes me want to read it.

    As much as poisonous personalities cause me to recoil, upon calming down I generally have a small portion of my heart feeling sorry for people who are so angry, insecure, bitter, and afraid that they strong arm people away by just walking into the room. Doesn’t make me want to get any closer, but at least I’m not reacting back! Maybe someday I’ll be secure enough and strong enough in myself to reach out — but then again, if a person isn’t ready to grab your hand, there’s not much you can do to help him up.

  7. oldswimmer says:

    Sometimes you have to turn away and avoid such people, but it can be rewarding to try to uncover the source of the anger/rage/poison and guide the person to some help. Most angry people do not admit they need help, though. Unless you have a really reliable alternative to offer them, it’s useless to try to “get along” with some of these toxic people. I will try to get the book too, and find out. I think I looked at it once and put it on a wishlist. 🙂

    I have two live toxic people who are hurt that I have turned away, and one dead toxic person who finally broke off her anger just before she died. It’s not impossible, but very very hard to deal with such folks. Heartbreaking because they have to live with their own anger and don’t know how to be otherwise. There is a reason they are that way. Usually a very sad reason.

    Look at the monsters in the news who terrorize individuals or whole big groups with unspeakable crimes. They are monsters because they are born evil or because they have been taught evil by someone else. (parents, usually.)

    Now I will stop chattering and get to my paperwork, Carolyn. From the purse, y’know.

    • Susan: yep, those receipts stuffed in the purse — interesting how much of the ink rubs off sometime and you think, “I bought some tne at the office store — toner? tuna?”

      Regarding anger — it blinds us, as well as binds us. We can’t think straight or move forward, so sometimes, with the angry people, we can interact on no more level than, “I sure do love chocolate chip cookies!” although the truly rage-infested will find something to pick on about that.

  8. oldswimmer says:

    P.S. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie” is a good one to read.

  9. Jana Botkin says:

    Carolyn, I was just SURE you meant “bug off” or “buzz off” or “flake off”. . . but loved your further explanation about why you thought strong words would do the trick. Sometimes such crudity is all the creep’s vocabulary contains.

  10. Jana: my classy, sophisticated, urban sister-in-law once spent a month using the four-letter word that begins with f in every private conversation that she could without losing her job or being disowned by her mother — simply because she had been taught for so long that the word was so evil, that she was bound by it — afraid of it.

    Eventually, she realized, “It’s just a word. A vulgar one, one that is not used in civilized speech for a reason, but not one that will consign my soul to hell if I say it. I will not go through the rest of my life being afraid of this word.”

    So she disarmed it, and really has no need to use it, or not use it. I personally have never heard it drop from her lips, but if it did, she would infuse it with a chic aplomb that would cause you to wonder if she really said what you thought she said!

    On one level, words are powerful things, capable of breaking a person’s soul; on another, they are just words.

    In the former category are strings of words that individually by themselves are simple, harmless, and innocuous: “I wish that you had never been born.” Not a single swear word there, but oh, what damage.

    In the second is the four letter word that begins with f, and its various cousins. Shock value, vulgarity, harsh edges, but unless appended with “you” and directed toward someone, really just prattle.

  11. Sometimes an exit is what is needed. If this kind of talk continues, I am leaving.

    • That is true — a definitive statement of action. The challenge with children comes, sadly, when they are visiting at one another’s house and are too far to walk home from theirs. It’s sad because no guest should feel threatened in a host’s home.

  12. I love your last paragraph. It should be on billboards everywhere. School bullies grow up to be bullies in the workplace.

    • So very true — they just get more sophisticated and “adult” in their methods.

      They say you can’t change others, and you can’t, but you — and I, and others — can live our lives honorably and well and let that be a countering influence.

  13. Pingback: Lies and Darkness, Truth and Light | This Woman Writes by Carolyn Henderson

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