I was recently contacted by Hasen Khiar a student at Orange Coast College in Orange County California who asked me if he could interview me about bullying so that he could make a presentation for a course he was taking. He sent me a list of his questions and these are my answers.
1. Have you ever been bullied in your life? If so, what did you do and how did it end (if possible)?
Yes. I was bullied pretty much everywhere I went. From a very early age. In some ways, it ended in 8th grade when I started standing up for myself with my fists. It wasn’t the best way to go about standing up for myself but at least with boys it had the desired result. With girls and later with women I usually ended up giving my power away to them because I had a really domineering mother who in many ways was kind of a bully too.
2. Why do you think certain people are being bullied?
I think there is still within our human psyche the same status seeking competition to find our place in the “pecking order” or in the “pack” and young people who are not aggressive by nature or who may be less athletic and more intellectual tend to be the “targets” of bullying because they provide a fairly easy way for another kid to elevate his status.
I don’t have as much experience with how girls pick their female targets but the boys definitely can smell weakness a mile away. And I was never good at sports. I was always the last picked. I was shy and sensitive and gave any bully who picked on me the satisfaction of a pretty good reaction.
3. What do you think is the best way to make the bully stop bothering the victim? Should the victim do anything physical?
I think the best way to make the bully stop bothering the target is for the target to stop as much as possible the reaction of being upset. If the bully can’t get a rise out of you there’s no payoff for him. It’s not easy but it’s simple. AGREE with the bully if what he says is true.
For example, if he says, “YOU’RE FAT!,” the best response isn’t “Stop saying that! I’m going to tell the teacher!” That’s just playing into his hands, you want to say, “yes. I know and I’m really struggling with it, YOU’RE obviously strong and fit how do you do that?” In other words the bully is trying to make him or herself feel better at your expense but if whatever they say doesn’t bother you, then you have the option and the chance in most cases to make the bully feel better in a more positive way. Give them a sincere compliment. for example, “Yes I know. Hey by the way, those are cool sneakers, where did you get them?”
Or you can ask for advice, “I know I’m skinny. You’re all buff and ripped. How did you do that?” You can change the subject and ask if they got the homework from social studies or whatever class you’re in together. It takes a little practice but In my book “The Bully Proof Kid” I teach a bunch of different ways to keep your cool even when someone else is losing theirs.
Another shift in perspective is to see the bully as a “teacher” someone who is helping you to develop thicker skin and to be able to respond resourcefully to adversity or conflict. One point I attempt to make with kids, parents and teachers is that if somehow we were able to get everybody to be kind, compassionate and empathetic all the time in school is that, eventually, every graduate will go out into the world where not everybody got the “memo” to be kind and respectful. Where are we supposed to learn resilience and how to deal with people who don’t like us? No matter how much we attempt to protect our kids, eventually they have to live in a real, often difficult and challenging world.
4. If the victim does not know what to do when he is targeted by a bully, what should he do?
Start learning what to do ASAP! I worked with a 4th grader once who was being teased and bothered because he had a speech impediment. I taught him breathing and grounding techniques in our first session and the next week at school the bullying just never happened. What changed?
Literally the thoughts this “target” kid was thinking and the way he was moving his body and managing his energy.
5. What inspired you to start making music? Do you have any songs that touch on the issue of bullying?
Music chose me to make it when I was about 8 years old. One night my mom put on a phonograph record of the song, “Greensleeves” and all of a sudden I felt the energy of the song literally pouring into my body from my feet and flowing up and out the tips of my fingers and the top of my head. It was mind blowing. Shortly after that I started learning to play the flute (which got me a lot of grief since I was the only boy in the 4th grade playing the flute. It was one more thing I did that was not “cool”). In 5th grade I started to learn piano. Then in 8th grade, I joined the band because they needed French Horn Players and I’d always liked the French Horn. Also in 8th grade I started teaching myself to play guitar and write songs. By my sophomore or junior year in high school people were being blown away by them.
Even some of the kids who I used to be afraid of and intimidated by expressed appreciation for my abilities. Even some bonafide “jocks” “the cool kids” began to be friends with me because they really liked music and I was really good. Unfortunately I was so traumatized by being bullied all through elementary and middle school that I couldn’t quite trust it. So I was pretty anxious about all of that. And yes I have a ton of songs about bullying. Many of which were for a musical that never got written. I wrote the songs but the playwright I was working with got pretty sick and she had to drop out of the project.
6. What is “Bully Proof Teen”?
Bully Proof Teen is just an version of the same tools and techniques as the Bully Proof Kid but for older audiences. It’s an online course that teaches a series of “Modern Jedi Mind Mastery” tools and techniques for deflecting verbal attacks peacefully yet powerfully.
The program includes a lot of my original Anxiety Relief techniques because one of the worst parts of being bullied is the anxiety we have about when the next “attack” or “confrontation” or “Incident” is going to occur. What we think about and how we react actually have a lot to do with how other people treat us. So if we work on ourselves we can often make rapid and noticeable improvements in every area of our lives. In fact a lot of kids (and adults) feel bullied by test taking.
I’ve worked with star high school and college athletes who were being “bullied” by the pressure to perform in order to get or keep an athletic scholarship. So ultimately I discovered that pretty much everyone from the principal and teachers to every student in a school may feel bullied by other people or the education system, or an opposing team’s fans, or simply difficult life circumstances in their families.
7. Can you briefly talk about your book “The Bully Proof Kid”?
The “Bully Proof Kid” is a short manual of different strategies and techniques that a person of any age could use to deflect, redirect and extinguish bullying behavior in someone else without losing your cool or giving away your power. They are primarily designed to stop the problem before anyone starts using physical force. The idea being that if you can stay in your conscious, rational, logical, reasonable thinking mind instead of flipping out and getting hijacked by the “lizard brain” fight or flight response, you can actually solve the conflict rather than just flailing away at someone who is most likely stronger than you.
Also I’ve noticed that in every instance of lethal school violence like Columbine or Sandy Hook, the perpetrators felt that they were the “victims” and they finally flipped out and took revenge. That’s why I ask, “who’s the most dangerous kid in the school?” It’s not usually the bully. It’s the target.
I know personally that when I started fighting back, it was because I felt like I was “pushed beyond my tolerance limit.” That an extremely dangerous state to be in. So my point in all my talks and workshops is to empower the target to take charge of their own behaviors and thoughts because ultimately that’s the only thing we can control. We can’t control other people, but we can control ourselves (with practice and training of course).
8. How do you think you and your music has impacted people who have been affected by bullying?
I have no idea yet if this program has helped anyone. I’m still testing it and adjusting it and applying new ideas to it. At some point I’d like to partner with a school where I have more time to teach my tools specifically to kids who are being picked on or who are struggling with being targeted. In addition to my workshops and school assemblies. I’d also like to get some middle and high school kids to collaborate with me on writing the musical that never got finished.
The thing is with this kind of work is that we often never know the positive impact we might have. I got into this project hoping to provide some kind of resources to kids who were in so much pain from bullying that they were considering suicide. I want to tell them. “Hey you don’t want to die. You just want the pain of this situation to stop. I can teach you some cool “Modern Jedi Mind mastery techniques” so that you can just be like Teflon or Kevlar.
One bit of positive feedback I got recently was at a rural school district in South Carolina. I’d done assemblies for the high school on Thursday and it was pretty well received by the 9th and 10th graders. A bunch of them sang along with my song, “Walk in My Shoes.” The next day I was back in the same building for the middle school bullying prevention assembly and some of the high school kids saw me in the hall. They started singing my song. That to me was a key indicator that songs are powerful ways to cut through all the rhetoric and talk about bullying and get a message “stuck” in someones mind in a positive and helpful way.
Here’s a “rough mix” of a song from that program that will be released on my next CD:
“If You Could Walk In My Shoes” which was inspired by my own experiences in school as well as several of my adult NLP clients who were still struggling as adults with the trauma of being bullied as kids.
I just want to thank Hasen Khiar for being willing to reach out and ask these excellent questions. Remember that no matter where you go you have more power than you think to positively affect and influence the people around you. And it all starts with the thoughts you think, the beliefs you have and the knowledge that you apply.