I can’t stand bullies, but I often wrestle with what to say or do so that I help but I don’t become a bully in turn.
It is easy to spot a bully when he is hitting someone. It is when he is using non physical forms of aggression that are harder to spot and to deal with.
I was in a library while on vacation and overheard a woman chiding some people. She kept going on and on about how they weren’t working fast enough, that it was almost time for lunch, that they weren’t going to get done in time.
She wasn’t helping. She was actually slowing them down by her constant harangue. She not only wasn’t trying to figure out what was causing the problem, she was becoming part of the problem.
She wasn’t using her library voice either. She was annoying me, a patron.
I looked through the stacks to see what was going on. There were three people at the table, all women. The lady who was doing the talking was about 40 years old and about 250 pounds. She had a binder open in front of her with a lot of charts. The other two ladies looked like they had some developmental disabilities. One was around 60, black, and had a brace on her wrist. The other was around 20, white, and had a beautiful smile.
I took a breath in and walked up to them. I said in a cheery voice “What are you all working on today?” while looking over what was on the table in front of each of them.
I feel I have an advantage with this tactic. While it is considered rude to initiate a conversation with a stranger, I’m physically very non-threatening. I’m short. I’m female. I don’t stick out. In some ways I’m invisible.
The lady said that she was their supervisor, but didn’t tell me what they were working on. I looked and it was an activity to help the library with summer reading. They were hand writing something for each reading log. Why the words hadn’t been printed on the sheet in the first place is beyond me.
It looked a bit like busy work. It looked a bit like their time was being wasted. Everybody needs to have meaningful work to do. Nobody likes busy work.
Since they were in a time crunch, (as evidenced by the constant reminders of the supervisor), I asked her why she wasn’t helping them. She pointed at her binder with its charts and graphs and said she couldn’t.
I said “A boat goes faster if all the oars are in the water.”
The younger lady gave me a huge smile at this. I feel like both she and her companion were frustrated at this lady but couldn’t say anything to her because of the hierarchical relationship they had.
I walked away, and listened. No more harangue. No more bullying. Bullies hate witnesses. Thinking that nobody is watching is what gives them power. I just let her know that she was being observed.
Ideally, she would have been working with these ladies – not necessarily doing the work with them, but finding out ways to get them to do their best.
I have seen quite a bit of this kind of “supervisor” of people with developmental disabilities at my workplace. So many are short tempered with their clients. So many are snappish. For some reason they feel it is ok to show off how smart they are by subtly making fun of people who have cognitive impairments. They treat them like children. They treat them like dummies.
The only dummy is the supervisor.
Getting impatient with how “slow” a person with a mental disability is makes no sense. It is like getting upset at a person who is missing a leg for not being able to keep up with you. They can’t compete.
But they shouldn’t have to.
The caregiver forgets that this person is doing the best she can, and that it is really hard all the time. They forget that their client is a person, first and foremost, and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.