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Monica Pickard spent twenty years of her adult life as a child care provider. During that time, with the help of her husband, she raised her son who has been diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Delay. She learned to navigate a world that was new to her – the world of Special Needs. She now shares these experiences and the wisdom they taught her, with love and heartfelt compassion for the human condition.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Living Our Beliefs: Bullying

“We have not begun to realize that ignorance – ignoring the plight and the pain and the sorrow – puts us in a place of ignoring the future of our world; puts us in a place of not understanding why there is the pain and the pestilence and the sorrow…” ~ Rev. Jon Bruno

            I absolutely love it when someone takes a word I often use and speaks of it in a way that blows my mind. The opening quote does just that for me. The word ignorance is a word I never associated with ignoring, even though it is right there in the word. I typically think of ignorance as a lack of understanding, or a downright lack of desire to understand. I guess a lack of desire to understand someone’s suffering really is a form of ignoring, is it not? We don’t want to look at someone else’s pain, so we ignore it. We deny it. We might even make fun of it as children and adults do when making fun of our special children right to their face or in comedy routines with jokes about people who ride the short bus.  
            Many people don’t understand the pain our special children suffer. Imagine how a child must feel when they first encounter our special children, given their lack of experience with different kinds of people. They don’t know what to think. They feel fear. They cannot process all of the questions in their mind and the emotions that come up when someone so bizarre is in their presence. You might not like me calling our kids bizarre, but that is what they are to people who are not used to them. A child’s lack of empathy (the ability to share someone else’s feelings) and lack of compassion (the desire to help someone) stems from confusion and fear. It is not that they don’t want to have compassion or empathy. It is that they simply can’t at that point. Their newly forming egos are trying to make sense of a new experience. They simply cannot imagine what is happening or why this person is acting so very differently from everyone else they have ever encountered. They don’t understand that our children’s actions are involuntary. They can’t imagine why someone would be so socially awkward. It is shocking and frightening to see someone who is not following the socially accepted ways of being in the world. It creates anxiety in a young mind. It may take weeks, months, or even years to process the experience or to gain an understanding of our children if no one with knowledge is guiding them and answering their questions.
            When I was a child care provider my biggest challenge was bringing new clients into my daycare. Newborn babies were fine because absolutely everything was new to them, but older infants and children who were becoming more aware and who had encountered lots of typical people were often frightened of my son. His strange noises and movements startled them. They would cry with fear and never take their eyes off of him when he was in the room. Eventually, they would see he was not going to hurt them and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Those who could talk would ask questions about him. The more they learned and the longer they were around him, the more compassion and empathy they began to feel. They could see how difficult his life is and they instinctively knew that to make it worse for him by making fun of him would be a horrible thing to do. They did not ignore his pain. They naturally became empathetic and compassionate towards him. Awareness is the key that unlocks compassion, but most of the time our first thought, when bullying occurs, is that the bully should be punished for their behavior.
            At some time throughout history, we got this idea that punishment is a good way to deter people from crime and immorality. Thousands of years have gone by with humans believing that, but crime continues and so does immorality. I guess humans have a magnificently, gigantic learning curve in this area. I used to believe that punishment was a deterrent, so I understand the reasoning behind it. I used to think that if a person was capable of understanding what they did wrong they should be punished for doing wrong. I ran my child care that way, issuing timeouts whenever a child misbehaved. It never helped to stop the behavior. They just waited until my back was turned and continued to do it more. After I closed my child care business, I realized that if they understood what they really needed to know they would not do wrong most of the time and if they did, showing them the right way would suffice. What they really need to know is love. They needed to feel it from me and to know that they are loved by creation. They needed to know that their fears are okay and normal. They needed to know that everyone has fear; that they were not alone in their fears; that they were not weird; that they were secure. I did a good job making sure they knew it when they were frightened of my son, but I failed to recognize their fears in other situations.
I feel bad about that, but at the same time, I know I did the best I could. I could not recognize my own fears at that time, let alone anyone else’s.  Now, I believe the only things people need in order to act right and to do the right thing is security, knowledge, understanding, and love. If we were to cultivate those things in children, what a beautiful world it would be! Imagine if we gave those things to everyone we meet, however we meet them, whatever they have done to us or our children. Imagine if we simply recognized their hostility and anger as fear.
            We have children (and adults) in the world who do not know anyone with disabilities and when they encounter a special person for the first time they may not have the ability to cope with it. They might lash out and taunt the person they encounter. They might bully them and get their friends to do it, as well. It is typically our first reaction to assume a lack of empathy and compassion and to assume that bad parenting is to blame when a child makes fun of our children. In a few rare cases bad parenting may be to blame, but most of us teach our children how to behave by example and if a family has never known anyone with a disability, there is no opportunity or forethought to teach such things. We can understand that, right? If it was bad parenting that caused them to bully our children, it is still not the child’s fault. They do not get a say in how they are parented. Still, our first reaction is to judge the child, ignoring their plight and their pain and their fear. Whatever the reason for the child’s behavior, it is best to educate children and their parents, so they can develop the empathy and compassion that will help them make good choices going forward when interacting with people who have special needs.
            It is easy to ignore someone’s pain when we are frightened of it and this is especially true for children. Ignoring someone’s pain keeps it at bay. Making fun of someone’s difficulties makes a child feel like they are immune to it. If I am making fun of this person, I am above them and their issues can’t hurt me. The ego feels powerful and in control when we bully others. Bullying is also a way to mask our fear from the rest of the world. Children know that showing fear is a sure fire way to become the victim of a bully, so they bully someone who can’t fight back in an attempt to act tough. As a mom, I know how painful it is when our child is bullied, no matter what the psychology is behind it! It is times like these when we must allow our own empathy and compassion to lead us. These are opportunities to spread awareness, little by little. Ignoring a bully’s fear is no different than when they ignore our children’s feelings, except that maybe it’s worse because we are adults and they are children; we have experience and they do not. Fear, indifference, and hostility are seen as a lack of empathy and mean spirited, but we can open our hearts and recognize that they are signs that a child does not understand what they are experiencing. This goes for adults, as well.
            We have all had the grocery store experience when our child has thrown a major temper tantrum while judgmental onlookers sneer at us because we can’t control our child. These people have forgotten what it was like when their child was small, or they handled it differently and think everyone should do the same, or they have not yet had this piece of hell to live through. Their turn will come – somehow, someway, when they least expect it – but in the meantime, we can remind ourselves to live our beliefs of compassion and empathy for the judgmental people. They do not know what our lives entail, and that type of ignorance warrants our empathy. They don’t know what it is like to parent our particular child. They can’t know it, and that is not their fault. On the flip side, we don’t know what it is like to live the life of the person  who is judging us. We don’t know what this particular person’s story is behind the judgment and we don’t need to know it. The only information we need is that there is some story they are telling themselves to justify the judgment and it has nothing to do with us or our children. How could it when they don’t know us? So the next time this happens to you (God forbid!), just let it go. Let the judgment, shame, guilt, embarrassment flow right through you because minutes from now it will be over. Very often, I read in blogs and Facebook comments, people reliving a bad experience and lamenting about how people should not judge our kids, whether it be children or adults that did the judging. They are spending time in the past, not realizing that it is over now. It was upsetting, but it is over and we can let it go.
            I know it is difficult to let things go because I have relived many horrible experiences like they were happening right now. I ‘could have said’ and ‘should have said’ until I was even more upset than when the actual incident happened, even to the point of becoming angry with myself for not saying this or saying that. The path to peace is to let it go. It does make it easier when you understand the ego in yourself and others, however. That is why I write this blog. I want you to take actual situations that have happened to you and that will happen in your future, try to understand your ego and the other person’s ego, and let the experience go; learn from it and move on. Cultivate your understanding of your fellow human beings, so the next incident in your life simply flows through you like the wind. It breezes through you, bringing up feelings that you notice and release. You don’t end up taking it out on your child or your spouse. You don’t hold on to it and let it bother you. It doesn’t give you heartburn or heart disease or cancer. It just flows in, you feel it; it flows out and is gone. Now you can enjoy your child, knowing that things happen because others have not experienced certain things, so they can’t know what you know, or do what you do, or feel what you feel. You can be brave and compassionately educate them if you wish or you can simply pay them no attention and let them snicker and stare if that is what they want to do. It has nothing to do with you or your child. You can confidently make eye contact with a smile on your face in the midst of public meltdown because you understand the impermanence of everything, the ridiculousness of their judgment, and you might even lighten the mood by saying something cute like, “It’s these precious moments that mean so much!” It will probably cause them to soften and stop being so judge-y. You can outwardly ignore their judgment because your situation is not their business, but inwardly have compassion for their ignorance of your child’s disability and the battles you fight as their parent.
            It would be nice if everyone in the world accepted our children, without judgment; if they stopped ignoring our children’s plight and their pain and their sorrow; if they understood that they don’t have all the information needed to make a judgment; if they treated us and our children with respect and compassion.

It would be nice.

A world filled with acceptance, non-judgment, awareness, understanding, empathy and compassion begin inside each individual. So go out there and be the change you want to see in this world. I look forward to next time, My Friends.

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