How To Melt a Bully

Welcome to our new website and to my first blog. Let’s begin by addressing one of the most distressing issues of our time – bullying.

When I consider the challenges of bullying in our schools and at the workplace, a memory from my childhood comes to mind. My father and I are walking together on our Missouri farm at twilight, ambling along on the parallel tracks made by the tractor wheels. As we come up
bullyingto the creek where the tracks disappear, Dad asks me, “What’s the best way to have confidence in life?” I tell him, “I don’t really know.” After all, I’m only ten. He says, “I don’t know either but I sure wish I did. I never feel comfortable with people.” I feel the anguish of Dad’s loneliness and our hearts merge in sadness. The mystery of that unanswered question hangs heavily in the air as we fall into silent step together.

Years later, when my father is age 87, we are eating lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria in Arlington, TX. “Dad, what events in your life had the most impact?” I ask. He puts down his fork, his eyes downcast, as if he’s quietly listening to a voice of the past. I can see he’s challenged by the question and I wait.

“In my early years, my parents created a loving family. That made a big difference. But I was bullied from the fourth grade on and I never told anyone.”

“What?” I’m incredulous. “I never knew that. You must have been so scared and lonely. Tell me about it.”

As he tells me, I now understand why my father, who has such natural dignity, struggled to have the confidence to fulfill his life purpose. It’s no wonder he was seeking advice from a ten-year-old. Bullying stole his confidence. The Connection Practice that I teach now could have prevented that or resolved it peacefully.

Bullying is one of the many symptoms that shows up when we’re unconsciously crying out for connection. Threat Assessment in Schools, a well-researched guide by the US Secret Service and Department of Education, calls connection the “critical emotional glue” and “a central component of a culture of safety and respect.” If we want to continue evolving into a kinder world, we must have the emotional safety that connection brings us. Otherwise, we often make choices, like bullying, that propel us in the opposite direction.

Instead of making bullies wrong, it’s possible to melt their hearts by helping them connect to themselves and others. Jose was a sixth grader who attended one of our Connection Practice courses. When he first arrived, he was punching the other boys; it was hard to get his attention. Then he had a chance, like all the kids, to play an emWave® software game, a fun way to learn heart-brain coherence through biofeedback. Research shows that achieving coherence between our hearts and brains results in better impulse control, increases our ability to be empathetic and gives us greater access to insights. I noticed that Jose stopped punching other kids after his turn on the emWave.

I joined Jose’s group in the last exercise of the day. I asked him whether he’d had any conflicts recently. He said he’d failed an exam and then had dragged a girl across the playground by her hair. I began guessing his feelings around this event. I asked if he was feeling angry because he’d failed the exam and he nodded. As we dug deeper, I found out he’d failed many exams and I guessed he felt some hopelessness over that. “Yes, that’s right,” he said. I guessed that he was lonely, “Yes, sometimes I am,” he affirmed and his face visibly softened.

Then we explored the needs underneath those feelings - needs for learning, achievement, and connection. When I touched upon the need for belonging, a big tear slid down his cheek. The empathy had opened his heart. Then I guided him back into the coherence he had learned about earlier. With his eyes closed, I encouraged him to ask himself what he needed to know about his conflict and just listen inside. When he opened his eyes, I asked him, “What did you hear?” He said, “Now I can find my feelings and needs so I don’t have to hurt anybody.” He had melted. Now he had a new skill that would help him make better choices in the future and his teacher, who had already been trained, would reinforce it.

In Costa Rica, over 1,500 teachers in 45 schools have been trained in the Connection Practice. Besides the 40,000 students those teachers have impacted, almost 4,000 students have received training from Connection Practice staff members.

Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. One day I was preparing to meet with a business associate who tended to blame and belittle me. I decided to use the full power of the Connection Practice before meeting with him. I identified my feelings and needs: I was nervous and uncertain because I value respect, trust and progress. Then I guessed that he felt worried and stressed because he needed security, understanding and to matter.

I moved into heart-brain coherence and an insight came in a flash: Less is more. I considered how to minimize my words and simplify my request. In the meeting, I listened respectfully and subtly responded by guessing his feelings and his needs as he told me all that was going on in his organization.

When I stated my request, this time he didn’t try to discredit me. Instead, my request was met with cooperation and I felt an authentic, warm connection between us as we said goodbye. Because he’d been heard at a deep level, he stopped his bullying behaviors and we were able to move forward.

When we have achieved the skill of connecting with ourselves and others, we can manage our emotions successfully and access our best intelligence. It takes practice, but now we have a methodology that is backed by science and the confirmation of our own experience.

I was baffled in how to help Dad when I was ten but was able to come through for him in his eighties. He learned to embrace his feelings and needs, rather than suppressing them, and found that he could achieve heart-brain coherence as a way to think at his very best. We lived together and our relationship deepened through this new way of processing whatever was coming at us in life.

Dad became an advocate of the Connection Practice and would start conversations about it with strangers.  In an e-mail to his grandchildren, he wrote, “This skill is better than a college education.  I have hope that your lives will be successful and happy.  This skill can do it for you!”

In 2011, Dad attended a conference to launch Connection Practice trainers and he got to know them better. We ended the event with an appreciation walk; each person took a turn walking down the middle of two lines of trainers, as they whispered words of appreciation in that person’s ears. My white-haired father, Carl Johnson, participated with the rest of us, reaching into each person’s heart with his words.

When it was his turn to walk down the line, each trainer spoke softly to him at length, while the others stood by with tears rolling down their cheeks. When they finished, the group gathered into a tight circle, arm in arm, and spontaneously rocked back and forth, deeply connecting with Dad. This was the greatest victory in his life: he had overcome his lack of confidence and was finally at home in connecting with others.

Each week, I will cover topics like this one in my blog.  I’ll share what I’m learning about connection and also examples that others have shared with me.  I hope you will join me.

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Rita Marie Johnson

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The Connection Practice envisions a world where generational pain is transformed into generational peace.

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