Tag Archives: mediation

Is it bullying?

Person A says that person B is bullying them. Person B denies it. Who do you believe? If you ignore it, you could well be enabling bullying and leaving a victim open to further abuse. One of the biggest problems in this scenario is that bullies are often very quick to claim victim status. Take as an example the man in the habit of screaming ‘you’re abusing me’ at the woman whose bones he broke (true story).

There are no foolproof ways of resolving this kind of situation, but here are some things to bear in mind.

People who can get out of bullying situations early on, do. However, where there’s a power imbalance – as there can be with workplace bullying, the victim may not be able to leave. Domestic abuse can include hidden power imbalances. Money, work, age, physical condition, size, and the invisible power of emotional blackmail can all be factors here. That a person has not managed to leave is not proof that they aren’t a victim.

People trapped in bullying situations become demoralised and less able to protect themselves. They may internalise blame and shame and feel it really is their fault. The person who admits they’re a horrible, worthless person may not actually be the bully. Demoralised people stay because they don’t believe anything better could happen anywhere else – this is what they deserve, it’s their fault and they may feel obliged to stay and try to put things right.

It is not bullying to express pain, difficulty, distress, or unhappiness. It is not bullying to disagree with someone or say no to them. People who bully seem to feel they have to be right, superior, more important and more powerful. This means they often can’t hear genuine negative feedback. They may try to call out as a bully anyone who doesn’t actively support their fragile egos. People in this situation are actually in trouble and potentially headed for more trouble – tortuous double thinking and mental health problems arise for people who can’t admit they make mistakes, and can’t hear negative feedback. Most of us are not equipped to deal with their problems, and misplaced support can increase the cognitive dissonance for someone unable to face their own shortcomings.

However, when all you do is feed back in a negative way, while insisting on staying in a situation, all you do is grind the other person down. What should happen if one person is doing a dreadful job but can’t be told and can’t be removed, and reacts to truth as though they are being victimised? And how do you tell this from a person who is actually being victimised?

A genuine victim will very likely be glad of any help and support, even if they feel they are to blame. They are likely to want to co-operate, and will be looking for ways to deflate the situation, make sense of it, reduce the drama, improve their own safety and get things on a more comfortable footing. They may be confused about what’s going on, distressed, or they may be angry if they understand what’s happening.

A bully pretending to be a victim wants attention and drama above all else. They don’t want the situation to resolve – and if it does they will rapidly create a new one to replace it. They will likely make demands about outcomes, they will be more likely to want the kind of justice that harms their ‘aggressor’ and their actions are more likely to move things towards isolating, excluding or otherwise harming the person who is actually their victim. They won’t hear criticism and they won’t accept mediation that requires them to take any responsibility at all for their own role in things. They may present as wounded and distressed or as angry alongside this.

It isn’t an easy way to go, but often the best way to find out who is actually a victim, and who is playing the victim in order to bully someone, is to get in there and offer help and mediation. Go in as a neutral party with a view to resolving things, and you’ll see the inside of the situation more clearly, and the responses of those you are trying to help. That gives you a basis in personal experience from which to decide how then to proceed. If it’s genuinely a personality clash, you can help resolve it, and if there’s really a victim and an aggressor, you’ll be better placed to see who is taking which roles. In situations of domestic abuse, the victim is in most danger of being killed or injured at the point when they try to leave. I strongly advise seeking help from the police. If you can’t take the mediator’s role, actively support a path towards mediation.

People die as a consequence of bullying – from aggression that goes too far, deliberate violence that murders, and as suicides. It’s important to take these situations seriously, because often it takes input from someone else to solve this and keep people safe. I suggest that if anyone claims to be being bullied, they should be heard with compassion and respect, as a first move. A person who comes forward as a victim is always in trouble, it just may not be the kind of trouble they’re claiming it to be.

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Book review: Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker

Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker is published by Hawthorn Press. It’s an overview of the life and work of Quaker academic, and peace maker Adam Curle, and includes some of his most important and influential writing.

Adam Curle’s first contact with peace issues came through working with returning prisoners of war after WW2, but has taken him, over the following decades into many of the world’s most troubled zones. His writing comes therefore from a rare mix of firsthand experience, spiritual belief, and considered academic thinking. What he has to say about peace, is fascinating.

Too often, we allow peace to simply mean an absence of obvious conflict. Adam uses the term ‘unpeacefulness’ to talk about situations where there may be no overt violence, but nonetheless what’s happening is likely to lead to violence and is causing harm. Oppression, prejudice, injustice, any kind of cruel or degrading system creates a breeding ground for violent resentment. Anyone interested in genuine peace has to be willing to tackle unpeacefulness wherever it manifests.

I found it very powerful that this book recognises that sometimes it’s very hard, or impossible, for a group of people to go from unpeaceful relations to properly peaceful and constructive relations, without first having some kind of dramatic upheaval. You can’t negotiate for peace if you have no power. At the same time, the more violence there is in the transition, the harder it is to build genuine peace in the aftermath. Adam Curle is a great advocate of Ghandi’s methods – non-violent disruption, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience can be tools for radical change.

This is a book with a message that can be applied at all levels. From issues of international politics down to how we operate our individual households, peace is not the absence of violence, but a deliberate project. It’s something we can do. It’s something we can all do. As a peacemaker, the author has a lot to say about bridge building (conciliation) and mediation work to help opposing sides rethink their relationships and renegotiate for something more beneficial. He illustrates how angry narratives can become self perpetuating, but if both sides are saying ‘we want peace, but the other lot will never give up’ then there’s room for a third party to do some real good.

Some of the writing in this book dates back to the 1970s, and uses male pronouns to describe people who are doing things. There’s a certain irony here, talking about oppression and alienation and so forth in a language that explicitly excludes half the population. However, if you can grit your teeth for that bit, and chalk it up to the shortcomings of the period, what the author has to say is well worth hearing, and as we go along, the language evolves into something much more inclusive.

This book is many things. It’s a history lesson, a biography, a philosophical piece, and almost a ‘how-to’ manual for becoming an active peace practitioner. It’s not always an easy read, some of the ideas are challenging and the language is quite dense in places, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. Highly recommended.

More about the book here – https://www.hawthornpress.com/books/social-ecology-and-management/adam-curle/


Sleeping with the stream

I’ve always loved running water, always been drawn to paddle feet or hands in it, to sit near it, listen to it. Stroud is wonderful on that score, with its many small streams. There are even a few small waterfalls. I’m especially blessed in that I can hear water flowing, from my bed.

As a lot of my prayer and meditation practice happens around the edges of sleep, I’m very conscious of that space as an environment and I pay a fair bit of attention to how it impacts on me. Being able to feel a connection with the natural world, from the sacred space of bed, is powerful for me.

I’m conscious of a transition as I settle at night, as I cease to be sociable, and gradually stop thinking about whatever’s been running around in my head. I know I’m settling when I become aware of the stream, and every time this happens I also become aware of just how much I filter out with my waking perceptions. The stream has a music of its own, coming down from the hills and heading out towards the Severn River. As I listen, I have an awareness of water as life, water as cleansing, and moving water as a journey towards other worlds. Letting the stream carry me, I drift towards sleep.

Often, waking is initially a process of becoming consciously aware of the water. I often start to surface before the dawn chorus. Awareness that I am waking is often awareness that I am hearing the stream, that it is calling me back to the waking world.

Having lived on a boat, I am very aware that water is often silent. Moving water can be remarkably hard to hear, even when there’s quite a significant flow. What creates the sound is not just the movement, but the interaction between water and something else – plant matter on the bank, stones in the river bed. Mostly what I hear is water passing over a small weir. Where water passes for long enough, it smoothes a silent passage. Stand by the River Severn, and there’s surprisingly little sound. But then, nature is often busiest at the margins and the places of interaction.