The difference between living strong and the weakness of a bully

Hardly a week goes by without Lance Armstrong returning to the news.

Whether it’s a cheated company wanting the return of the millions they invested or Lance defending his actions and protesting his innocence. 

But it’s time to set the record straight.

You can live strong without being a bully. You can play fair. You can play for the team. 

True character shows compassion. Real power is expressed in putting others first. You need strength to serve.

Husbands bully wives. Fathers bully sons and daughters. Tennis fathers bully talented children. Bosses bully employees. Wannabe champion cyclists systematically cheat and bully team members into complicity and corruption. 

You can call it what you like but don’t call it living strong. 

Of course, such behaviour isn’t universal. There are many wonderful examples of servant leadership, the caring and courageous execution of power and the selfless sacrifices made by those in positions of authority.

Nor is it confined to one gender. I don’t need to document the damage caused by overbearing and manipulative mothers – and even wives. But one gender does seem to fail in this matter with frightening frequency. 

Nor is bullying only perpetrated by those in positions of recognised authority. Those whom leaders serve can behave in many malignant and manipulative ways.

The layers and cycles of verbal and emotional abuse, destroyed careers and ruined relationships exposed by the ‘livestrong’ sporting farce may be more far reaching than anyone is prepared to imagine. Nobody can quite plumb the depths of the devastation and havoc it has caused.

Mark Twain said,

    Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre but more deadly in the long run.

And the collateral damage from this calculated and comprehensive corruption has been massacre-esque in its magnitude.

But it’s not just in the world of sport that we have observed, suffered from and even perpetuated such behaviour and seen its consequences played out in so many tragic ways.

We see it in bedrooms and boardrooms, in classrooms and clubrooms, in churches and cabinets, in the office and on the oval, in political and pastoral relationships as well as in the pelaton.

•    A power-hungry politician wants to be prime servant, declares public support, lies in wait and pounces at the most strategic opportunity

•    A predator pastor counsels a parishioner, wins her trust, smothers her with empathy and understanding at her most vulnerable points, all the while grooming her for the ultimate betrayal

•    A narcissistic parishioner wants a platform, craves prestige, borrows power, forms a partisan group and undermines the authority of recognised leadership

•    A prima donna in the pulpit craves control, shuts out criticism, plots the downfall of his critics, crushes creativity around him with catastrophic results in the congregation and the community

•    And a prima donna in the pelaton wants more than pedal power, pays off some ‘pedallers’, pushes EPO onto other ‘pedallers’ and pretends to be squeaky-clean and the Tour’s supremo cyclist.

We have known since almost forever that might is not right. But we are, of course, a part of the problem and not the solution. We have all used power inappropriately.

The worst of this problem is now being highlighted in the increasing awareness of the frightening pandemic of domestic violence. One of the best ABC Q&A’s I’ve seen in years was televised a week or so ago featuring Australian Of The Year, Rosie Batty, leading a brave and brilliant panel discussion on this critical social issue.

Also at the most serious end of this issue I would also cite the gut-wrenching stories that continue to come out of the Royal Commission into the institutional handling of sexual abuse allegations.

But the abuse of power and position is also played out in a host of subtle scenarios.

Bullying can be generally defined as an imbalance and abuse of power in a relationship structure.

The main types of bullying are often categorised as physical, verbal and emotional. Of late, much has been made of cyber-bullying which will involve the last two on that list of three.

Physical abuse can be more easily evidenced by cuts and bruises. Verbal and emotional are more difficult to prove but the detrimental and sometimes devastating impacts on a victim’s health can leave lasting and even permanent scars. Even physical abuse, intimidation and violence lies undetected behind doors and behind the evil manipulation of the victim’s fear of further cycles of abuse.

What is our personal responsibility in any perceived conflict of interest and potentially escalating power play?

Remember that major infernos always start with small unextinguished flames.

I need to ask myself and you need to ask yourself:

•    Am I part of the problem?

•    Do I need to have my own way in any given matter?

•    Is there unresolved anger, jealousy or frustration that needs to be named and shamed, repented of and remediated?

•    Am I still trying to please the unfulfilled expectations of my father or mother and playing out a pathological need for their approval?

•    Do I need professional help?

•    Will I keep the example of Jesus ever before me and hold the forgiveness of Jesus forever in my heart?

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).