Poem for a Bully
By Eileen Spinelli
Somewhere deep inside you
there’s a softer, kinder place.
I know this will surprise you –
but I’ve seen it in your face.
Your eyes are often sad, although
you wear a surly grin.
Sometimes when you stand all alone
your ‘mean’ seems worn and thin.
I wish that you would take a step –
a small, but brave one too –
and look inside yourself to find
the good I see in you.
In her poem, “Poem for a Bully” Eileen Spinelli asks the bully to find the good inside himself. Spinelli seems to be saying that she can understand him in a way he cannot seem to understand himself. But, can we truly understand other people on this level? Larry C. Rosen, a lawyer and mediator for couples going through divisive divorces, asks the same question, “Is it possible to understand everyone at a deep and meaningful level?”
How, he wonders, is it possible to understand both the eighteen-year-old girl who sleeps next to her cell phone and the eighty-year-old man who cannot remember his grandchildren’s names? A bully and his victim? What about two very different eighteen-year olds? One for instance, an accomplished American teen who has been accepted to Harvard University and plans on studying medicine, and another Afghani teen who has joined the Taliban. Human psychology seems extremely complex. Is it possible to understand both of those boys on a deep level?
Meeting with evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists (and many of his own clients), Rosen has come up with a theory based on founding psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers’ pyramid of needs. These psychologists argued that all people have similar needs in order to succeed (basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs). Rosen also builds on contemporary American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg’s needs inventory. But Rosen takes these theories several steps further.
He explains that there is a key to understanding everyone on a deep level. In fact, he argues that all humans have “common needs” – around thirty of them. That means that anytime we exhibit a behavior, it is because we are trying to fulfill a basic need.
So, how does this connect to those two eighteen-year-old boys – the one going to Harvard and the one joining the Taliban? In reality, those two boys are pursuing the same needs.
Both boys are looking for respect. One will get respect by attending Harvard University while the other will get respect by joining the Taliban.
They are both looking for community and belonging. One will get a community at Harvard and the other in the Taliban.
They are both interested in making a difference in their worlds. One will study medicine and heal people, the other will learn to kill and fight for the cause he is joining.
While incredibly disturbing in the above example, what Rosen explains is that our motivations are the same. We all have physical needs, we all have relational needs, and we all have aspirational or spiritual needs. When we understand that about each other, we can easily understand each other. What makes someone act in the way they act? That person is trying to fulfill a common need (one that you and I have too). Once we discover which common need they are fulfilling, we can easily work with them to ensure that we both benefit.
Let’s return to the bully and victim. In order to understand the motivation of the bully (and the victim), we need to look at what common needs the bully is fulfilling by picking on other people. Is he trying to get respect? Is he trying to create a sense of belonging?
Understanding the motivations of the bully in no way excuses the behavior or changes the consequences. It does, however, help parents and educators teach the child other ways to cope and fulfill those needs. If we understand that a bully is acting aggressive because he wants respect, we can change the dynamic and thus change his behavior.
Will you always be able to understand which common need someone is fulfilling? Absolutely not. However, you can step into their shoes. Ask yourself, why would I do something like that? What is it giving me? In the end, you just might have a window into other people’s motivations and minds.
Register now for a Mindsets and ADHD workshop by Dr. Robert Brooks on November 13, 2018. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-545437 for more information.