Sticks & Stones, Social Contracts & Other Lies Experts Tell Us About Bullying (Part 2)

Before I begin part 2 of this post I wanted to thank everyone for the overwhelming response I received from Sticks & Stones, Social Contracts & Other Lies Experts Tell Us About Bullying (Part 1). I appreciate all of the good words, support, personal stories and thoughts that people shared with me on-line, in person and privately. People from all over the world and all walks of life seemed to identify with the story: From special ops military, to insurance salesmen; soccer moms to SWAT team members; Federal Marshall's to factory workers, firemen to financial advisers, Teachers to IT professionals, correctional officers, counselors and car salesmen. Men & women of all ages, backgrounds and social groups; straight and gay; it didn't matter. Almost everyone seemed to immediately identify with that story. Why, because many people have stories of their own either personal, someone they knew or a situation they saw in some way.

For those of you who know me better, you know that I am a bit of a private person. One of my friends asked me if I felt weird or vulnerable when I wrote this past post. I said no. I didn't feel weird until I began getting the feed back from people, then I started to feel a bit awkward. There are probably a million reasons why, but that is for a later blog.

I don't know how she did it, because she never even knew me, 
but artist Jean Nelson painted a picture of me as a kid. 

It's true, I used to rampage around the neighborhood on my 
Big Wheel wearing the cape my grandfather made for me. 
...not much has changed really, only I 'm older now, no longer have 
blond (or any) hair; I traded in my Big Wheel and my neighborhood 
has expanded to include the entire globe! =) 

I want to clarify a couple of other things before we begin with Part 2 of this story:

Overall I feel that I had a GREAT childhood, I wouldn't change it for the world. What happened with my brother although shocking to some and somewhat unfortunate to be endured, is often a part of life and a lesson to be learned for everyone. Things could have been much much worse. Overall I couldn't have asked for a better childhood.

Don't ask me why, but deep down I knew my brother loved me. Even though he could be abusive, he always stuck up for me when it came to other people. Although there were some rough times, I still have many good childhood memories with my brother. It wasn't all bad.

I never held on to any animosity toward my brother. Actually, I felt bad for him. He had a rough time with things. It hurt me to see him struggle with his emotions, with school, with our parents, with the law, with other kids, with substance abuse, with life. I knew he was bullied too and I saw how he carried that and many other negative experiences forward. I may be able to understand that better now as an adult, but for whatever reason I was empathetic for him way back then even without the maturity of knowing why.

In spite of all of his flaws, I love him and always have and I know he does me as well. However, his behavior toward me was unacceptable, so I had to learn how to manage his behavior while respecting him as a person; or in clearer terms, his "Life Value." Just being nice to him wasn't enough; at that time, he rarely respond to that method, he needed a little more "incentive" to not take out his aggression out on me. His behavior had to be managed (in our case back then) physically. So I had to be able to separate the actions from the person, the sinner from the sin, so to speak. I did this unconsciously. This perspective didn't stop only with my brother, I did this with others as well. After time I slowly realized how powerful this viewpoint was regarding getting along with people, managing conflict and leading. Through this perspective one could live a safer, healthier, happier life.

I didn't even realize it, but I began trying to teach others how to do this as well. Later, as I grew up I would more mindfully and systematically begin teaching a method that was tangible and could be replicated. Later yet I met Jack Hoban who introduced me to a vocabulary he learned from his mentor Dr. Robert Humphrey regarding the Universal Life Value and Dual Life Value, as well as the concept of Tactical Space and how it is used not only in combat, but in life. I owe a lot to Jack for helping me not only clarify this perspective, but to be able to articulate it more accurately to others. Some other earlier influences of mine in this area include: My Mom & Dad, some of my first martial arts instructors namely Bob Barss and Master Yen Hoa Lee the writings of  Joseph CampbellAnthony DeMello, Dan Millman, and the ethic, legends and lore of what I saw martial arts and warriorship was to be; a path of empowerment and of being a protector.

Since that fateful time as a boy I have been working on the art of blending the ethic, strategy, tactic and technique of being a protector of Life. Through my own experiences and the experiences of others I continue to practice, learn, and when appropriate share some of my lessons with others the best that I can.

Ok, one last thing before we're ready to go (really, I promise):

Initially I was only going to write this post without Part 1; but before I even started writing the words, I realized that to fully express my perspective of the importance of this element I HAD to share my story.

FINALLY, without further ado:

Sticks & Stones, Social Contracts & Other Lies Experts Tell Us About Bullying (Part 2):

I do work with a lot with healthcare and counseling organizations including: The Michigan Counseling Association, the Michigan School Counselors Association., West Michigan Counselors Association, Forestview Hospital, Hope Network, Employee Assistance Center, Spectrum Health, and many others.

Now, just so you understand the uniqueness of this situation, I don't have a masters degree or a Ph.D. in anything let alone psychology, counseling or social work, so why do these high profile mental healthcare organizations continue to hire me and bring me in to speak and train their professionals?

Simple, I share a perspective and methodology that is beneficial to them and their patients and students; one that their education and training has not provided them. This approach is different from their experience, but it is powerful and life changing none the less.

You see, people come to me to for many reasons, but the underlying motivation for everyone is empowerment. Empowerment over their life in some way. It may be to lose weight, to get in shape, to handle conflict better, to become a better leader or manager, to defend themselves or their family, to be more effective at their job as a police officer, soldier, bodyguard or security personnel, to overcome the trauma of an abusive relationship, assault or rape.

Call it what you want, the bottom line is that people come to me to feel more confident, less afraid, to live safer, healthier, happier lives.

People want a  L.I.F.E. - That is to Live Independent, Free and Empowered. They sometimes don't even know it, but they want to become better Protectors. Better Protector of Life... Their own Life and the Life of others. 

When I speak to schools and school counseling organizations, my presentations often are about how to manage conflict more effectively in and out of the classroom. Now, when I present it is more than just me talking; I always have unique exercises for the participants to do so they can learn more effectively and have fun doing it. I've learned over the years that you can have the best material in the world, but if everyone is bored, not involved or can't see how the concepts relates to them, your wasting both of your time, because no one's listening or attempting to learn. You have to engage your audience quickly & capture their attention.

I, like so many educators have found that this is done by 1) helping the student see how the information can relate to and help them in some way and 2) then telling stories and creating exercises that involve and engage the participants. It is training not just education. My workshops deal with conflict which is more than just words, I began calling what I teach "Integrated Empowerment."  The idea is that we have to integrate: Ethics, Emotion, Mindset, Non-Verbal & Verbal Communication, Physical and Sociological elements in order to be more effective.

Why do we have to integrate all of these items? Because humans embody all of these things and if we are not addressing how this all comes together both inside of us as well as when we interact with others, then we are leaving something out; the approach is not being as effective as it could be.

So, we are about two thirds through my two hour presentation when someone brings up the topic of bullying. The participants (all school counselors and/or psychologists) ask me my opinion on it. Before I commented I asked them if they wanted my politically correct answer or my honest viewpoint. Of course they were interested in my real view.

"We want to know what you really think Craig." Someone from the crowd asked.

"Well," I said. "In my opinion, one of the main problems of many of the approaches embraced by today's schools is that they are coming from the wrong place. They are starting from the wrong foundation. They are beginning from a place of false assumptions and more importantly from a flawed, warped perspective of the human experience."

What?! The crowd mouthed.

"Many of you may be thinking that I am being a bit bold and arrogant by my statement, so let me show you." I said with a smile.

"Could I get a volunteer?" I asked politely.

A small, young lady stepped up.

"Let's say that you have to talk to me. Stand where you normally would to talk." I said with a slight grin.

She adjusted her position slightly and stood there.

"Do you feel safe?" I asked.

She nodded confidently.

"Are you sure?" I asked, as I reached my hand out and put it on her shoulder.

The energy began to change in the room as I began to illustrate my point.

"What is stopping me from hurting you right now?"

My comment didn't quite register with her, so I repeated it slower, more deliberate, more intentional.

"What is stopping me from hurting you right now?"

Her eyes widened as the air was sucked out of the room from my statement.

"If I can touch you, that means I can grab you, hit you, throw you down, assault you, rape you. And what are you going to do about it?"

Now you could hear a pin drop in the room.

"Do you think you can make it to that door (about 25 feet away) before I got a hold of you?"

Before she could answer, I said, "I doubt it, I'd own you before you got two steps off."

"Do you think you could get to your cell phone and dial 911? I doubt it." I said flatly.

"Let's say someone here was able to call for help, how long do you think it would take the cops to get here?" I asked gravely.

"Too long." I exclaimed, adding, "do you know what I could do to you in the 10 or 20 minutes it took them to get here?"

The young counselor was now visibly uncomfortable, so uncomfortable she was frozen in her place. No doubt wondering why she volunteered in the first place.

"OK, what about all of your friends here in the room?" I said, waiving my hands around the room like some magician would before making someone disappear. 

"Do you think anyone would help you?"

"Maybe, but probably not, at least not at first." I said matter-of-factly.

"Do you know how much I could hurt and humiliate you in that time?" I said looking her.

"A LOT!" I pointed out with a menacing look in my eye.

"How do you feel right now?" I asked her.

She didn't say anything at first. So I said it another way.

"Do you feel safe?  Do you feel confident? Do you feel empowered?"

"No," she said barely above a whisper, shaking her head slightly.

I began to soften my words and demeanor. 

On a scale of one to five how safe, confident and empowered do you feel right now?

"One or one and a half," she shared looking up hesitantly.

"This is how kids feel with a bully. The threat of a physical attack is always eminent as well as the emotional and psychological victimization. These are all factors in their world... And they know it." I explained.

"This is not to say that other forms of bullying are not an issue as well, because they can be equally damaging (referring to cyber bullying and other types of victimization that may not involve direct physical contact)." I added.

I went on to say, "The only reason we do not feel (physically) unsafe as adults in this society is because of a social contract we unconsciously agree to which "states" that (pretty much) whatever happens we are not going to try to physically hurt one another."

That social contract doesn't exist for kids in the same way it does for (most) of us as adults. This is one of the fatal flaws that is at the foundation of many of these anti-bullying policies and programs that are so common out there.

We all have a need to feel safe. Research proves that if we don't feel safe we don't do anything well. For starters, just look at the statistic of absenteeism of school kids due to bullying:

Every day, more than 160,000 students skip school because they are fearful of being bullied

If you don't even show up to class, it's hard to learn anything, right?

The feeling of safety is not just physical safety; it is emotional, physical, social, financial, etc. I see it in young and old alike and from every walk of life. I have found that the better protector I can be, the more authentically I can connect with people. I get better data tactically (a fancy way of saying that if I am not the problem the other person will tell me though his words or actions how the situation needs to be managed more safely), while creating an environment that is safer, healthier, more productive and happier.

Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

If you look at the second tier of the pyramid you'll see the magic word we're talking about, SAFETY.

Now in our overly compartmentalized world, sadly it has gotten to the point that we cannot even protect ourselves without the consent of our society. This is exemplified most predominantly in this case by many of our schools "zero-tolerance" policies. Which says that there is no differentiation between an assault and defending yourself from an assault; no difference between the bully and the bullied; the victim and the one who victimized them. It is essentially saying that you don't have the authority or right to protect yourself, and if you do you will be punished for it in the same manner as that of the person who attacked you.

It seems that we are more concerned with creating someone who follows the rules of the system more than we care about the well being of that individual. It's a shame. 

This communicates to our children that they are not worth or capable of standing up for themselves, that they do not have the "authority or authorization" to protect themselves outside of having the establishment do it for them. If they do not comply with policy it is an equal offense to that of the violence done to them itself. This sentiment conditions people to be dis-empowered victims that are in need of rescuing.  And when our institutions fail to protect us, our learned helplessness becomes even more exposed, which leads to many other problems. Once this learned helplessness solidifies it can be the root of many other personal, interpersonal and social issues.

The professional academics coming up with these policies and programs have good intentions, but a skewed foundational perspective. They come up with policies and programs reflecting how they would like things to be, not how they are. Most do not see the whole picture not because they don't want to see, but because their environment isn't the same as that of the kid. It is easier to be idealistic when it isn't your ass on the line... or rather when you aren't the one feeling unsafe to that level. I was able to demonstrate it a little bit with my young counselor volunteer. Helping her to see and feel what I was talking about.

Let me explain:

In a perfect world people should not hurt one another. You should feel safe to do whatever you want shy of hurting, disrespecting, etc. others. But that is not the real world.

We should have confidence that if I treat someone with dignity and respect that they will return the sentiment. That is a great place to start, but what happens when this method doesn't work? What happens if the person wants to hurt you in some way, regardless of you treating them kindly? How do you manage that situation? How can you protect yourself? How can you protect EVERYONE the best you can?

Imagine our military, police officers, healthcare orderlies and security personnel not being trained in physical management or having the proper tools (ranging from restraints to tazers, pepper spray, ballistic vests and other protective equipment, to emotional, verbal and physical tactics that are designed to deal with an individual who does not want to play nice), as well as ethical, verbal, emotional and psychological skills?

As you might guess, most situations would turn out very differently if our protectors didn't go into these situation with the right mindset, abilities and tools to deal with someone who wasn't playing the same game we were regarding goodwill towards all.

This game as I call it is a social contract; an unspoken agreement of acceptable behavior between two or more people.The social agreement that most adults have with one another is that of non-violence. Under normal circumstance, it is not seen as acceptable to turn to violence to another person. This is such the norm in most of our society that we forget that this is only an agreement if both parties are playing by the same rules. However, some adults such as criminals and sociopaths do not have these niceties, nor do many kids. Kids are still learning the rules of acceptable behavior and emotional management. The ones who don't learn the rules of the game (how to manage this), quickly become outcasts as adults which typically result in difficulty with their relationships, jobs and probably a fair amount of time in our correctional system.

The people creating the anti-bullying policies and programs do not take into consideration this foundational element which as a result makes the strategy incomplete and less effective in some and downright ineffective or wrong in others.

Now back to my story at the conference:

"Would you like me to show you some simple ways that you could raise your confidence in how to handle this situation?" I asked her.

"Yes, of course," she exclaimed as her demeanor began to relax.

I shared a simple yet profound method of how to better manage this concept of "Tactical Space." Where to stand, how to move and what to look for to be safer and have a tactical advantage if someone was trying to physically hurt you. 

It doesn't have to do with teaching people how to fight or hurt others, on the contrary, it is helping them understand that they are already protectors, we just need to help them be better at it by giving them the right tools for the job!

I went on to explain how that this idea of tactical space wasn't only physical; it can be managed and expressed ethically, emotionally, psychologically, non-verbally, verbally, and socially.

The participants were astounded.

After showing her some of the basic positions, movements, tips and tricks. She looked much more confident.

"How confident do you feel now?" I asked smiling.

"A lot more," she said enthusiastically.

"I probably feel like a 4 or 4.5 on that 5 point scale!" She beamed.

"Great!" I exclaimed.

"Is this something you think would benefit your students?" I asked.

"Yes!" She said delighted.

"I hope you can share it with them," I said honestly.

"If you need help let me know." I added.

This is an example of Integrated Empowerment: 

An approach that gives us skills in these areas of:

Ethics - Universal Life Value: Protecting Self and ALL Others.
Emotions - Calm, confident.
Non-Verbal - Stance, posture, position.
Verbal - How you talk.
Physical - How you move, engage or disengage.
Social - How the relationship & group dynamic plays a part.

These element have to be clarified and activated in a simple, effective way that works.

Here is a story that Jack Hoban often tells that explains this more simply: 
You're on the playground and you see a kid getting bullied by a bigger kid. Pretty much everyone sees that as being wrong. Congratulations your moral. You know wrong from right. 
You overcome the embarrassment of being called a tattle tail and the fear of being confronted later by the bully for telling on him and you go get a teacher to help. Congratulations you are ethical: You do the right thing when it is difficult to do so, or you don't have to (ethics = morals in action). 
Now, there are no teachers or adults around to help and if you don't step in, the smaller kid is going to get pounded. So, you over come your fear of being beat up yourself, the anxiety of maybe having to hurt someone else, the reality of possibility of getting kicked out of school and/or grounded by your parents for "fighting." You overcome all of these fears and you decide to step in and stand up to the bully. Now you have the makings of an Ethical Protector (or Ethical Warrior, or what I often call the PeaceWalker).
(...and my addition to the story...)
To take it even a step further, the next day when you see the bigger kid who was being the bully the day before, you approach him and say something like this: "Hey George, is everything alright with you man? You seem like you're a nice enough guy; what was going on with you and Bob?" 
That story helps to simply clarify the concepts of morals, ethics and ethical protection. We have to also remember not to demonize (dehumanize) the person (or group) who are being the bullies.
It only takes ONE person to step up, then others step up as well. But that one person has to have guts to be the first to make the stand!
In order to do this you have to have to be able to STEP UP! It is easier to step up if you have Integrated Empowerment (even if you don't know exactly what it is).

Everyone in the room seemed to not only have a better understanding of what I was talking about, it looked as if they could FEEL the difference within themselves!

After my session several of the counselors approached me asking questions and requesting more information. It was a great day!

It is times like this that remind me why I do what I do. It is also times like this that I am thankful for the experience I had with my brother, because without that experience I might not be here sharing these skills with others. 

For more information about this perspective:

All the best,


  1. Excellent, EXCELLENT post, Craig... thank you for sharing you, your thoughts and your expertise.


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