You are not who they say you are. That’s good news, right? While last week I focused on not criticizing yourself, today a recent event has inspired me to focus on not allowing others to criticize you either. In fact, I will take it a step further and suggest that we not let others define us, name us, shame us, limit us, BULLY us, or act in any way that diminishes who we are destined to be. That’s right, pull up those big-girl panties because my alter ego is dangerously close to the surface. (You have never met Erica but she is in here.) I’m doing lots of deep breathing this week because I’m angry and heart broken at the same time.
In case you haven’t been following this story, let me tell you about a bright, young, African-American man named, Jonathan Martin. I believe he is standing in place for a lot of other people, but I have his name so I’m going to use it today. This particular young man may have lost his professional life last week because he was harassed and abused until he couldn’t take it anymore and fled his workplace. He is in a profession where you would hardly expect someone to be bullied and tormented like this but there is a lesson in that for us also. You can be victimized no matter where you work and what you look like.
Nothing gets my Warrior Princess riled up as quickly as people using their powers for evil. When people who have been gifted with authority choose to abuse and intimidate the vulnerable, it makes me palms itch. You want to see me go from my usual soft-hearted, fun-loving self to Xena in about 3.6 seconds? Just have the nerve to take advantage of a young person, an old person, the poor, etc. Forget punching stuff in the throat, I want to hurt people who intentionally damage others. I make no apologies for that, because someone has to speak for those whose voices are being drowned out. Back to Jonathan.
Jonathan Martin, is on the roster of the Miami Dolphins football team. All the facts are not in, but what we know for sure is that last week after a protracted period of what he felt was abusive behavior in an extremely hostile work environment, he ‘snapped’ and left the facility. Initial reports said he had a nervous breakdown, an emotional crisis, etc. The first word I remember hearing about possible reasons behind the incident was ‘bullying’.
Let me be clear, football is a brutal, macho, physically intimidating sport. I get that. However, bullying is a different matter. And so is the alleged racial bigotry he was subjected to. As the words of one voicemail he received were released to the public, it became obvious that this was not bullying or harmless hazing. The actions were intentional, ugly, racist, cowardly, repugnant, bigoted and hateful.
This situation is front-page news because it happened to professional athletes in a glamour city. But we know this scenario could be playing itself out right in classrooms, boardrooms, libraries and thousands of other locations right now. The fact that nobody stepped in and stopped this is not shame reserved for athletes. You know that right? Does that give you chills? It does me.
Bullying Affects the Bully and the Bullied
My heart breaks for this young man. While I happen to believe that him speaking up is incredibly brave I know that the price he will likely have to pay for slaying this particular dragon and saving his life and the lives of others, may be more than he realizes. Because of the macho sensibilities around sports, especially football, and all that I have heard and observed about the behavior inside male locker rooms, there will be many who will call him soft, denigrate his physical skills, and say he should have kept the dispute in house.
Maybe that is true. Maybe he tried to do that. But the fact that it is now being widely reported that he is in therapy trying to regain his health is what should haunt every person involved in this situation. I don’t care how macho you are, if grown men are bullying, and threatening, and tormenting their TEAMMATES there is something so wrong with that, it takes my breath away. Those facts should choke the very breath from the leadership of that organization.
I love football. I watch it all the time, I am loud when I watch it. Things come out of my mouth that you would find hard to believe, etc. Yes, I have wished ill on good Christian men because they were playing for the wrong team. However, when the game is over, even if my team lost, I can go back to being a reasonable, mature fan of the overall game. I would never let that emotion go off the field and push me to a place my circle of friends wouldn’t recognize. In this case, I would never be pushed to leave profane, hate-filled, threatening, disparaging voicemails for a brother-in-arms, one of the 50 men who I am supposed to live and die with.
That is repugnant and makes me want someone to stop this bully . It doesn’t have to be somebody bigger physically, because Jonathan Martin is an imposing figure. But physical size and power can be two completely different and separate things. You are NOT who they say you are.
I am troubled by how it got this bad. Allegedly, this foolishness has been going on for about 18 months. Really? WHY THE HELL IS THAT?! Are you telling me that nobody in the Dolphin organization had a clue? The alleged ringleader has a long and checkered past and bells should have been ringing all over that organization. And I believe they were. Were they were more concerned with winning games than they were with the character of their players? Were they less concerned with the quality of the workplace? There’s laws about that folks, I have no inside information, I’m just saying.
I’m not foolish enough to think that everybody who plays football is an altar boy and/or never makes a mistake. But there must be a line that we can draw to benefit our collective group, our team. There has to be something deep inside of us as a group that will not allow us to eat our own young. Where was that over the last 18 months?! I don’t trust myself to address the bigotry and racism present, because I’m still trying to keep my alter ego in check because I love my listeners. There are others who I know will do a better job at that in the coming days.
I’m encouraged that Jonathan finally said, enough. Think about what it cost him day after day after day for over 18 months to have someone speak such powerful limited beliefs, lies, and hate into his life. For the people who would call him soft or weak, tell me how well you would do with someone (I believe there were several someones) making it their life’s work to break you down and tell you that you are nothing? How would you function under that pressure? Ask yourself, how much more could Jonathan have accomplished FOR THE TEAM if that distraction wasn’t present? Then hush and let grown folks finish talking.
As I think about Jonathan and what his future looks like I pray for his restoration, peace and health. And I for one was delighted to hear that he was in therapy. A trauma of this kind seems to scream out for professional intervention, does it not? And it flies in the face of some of the stories I remember hearing as I was growing up, like, ‘Black people don’t go to the psychiatrist’. Really? We don’t? Why not? Are our lives so good that we would never need to work on ourselves?
I was that precocious child who would ask the question and not accept things from adults blindly. It doesn’t mean I was constantly challenging authority, but if things didn’t make sense, I really wanted to understand them. Yup, I was that kid. I was sitting in the corner reading quietly but then out of nowhere, a zinger question. Nope, you are NOT who they say you are.
The response to the question I asked about Black people addressing mental health was that we would dance out our concerns on Saturday night or pray ‘em away on Sunday morning. True story. I heard that plenty of times. Have you ever heard anything similar? I can still remember the stupefied look my mother gave me when I suggested that we take the hospice up on its offer to talk with a grief counselor as my grandmother’s health was failing. She thought that was ridiculous. BUT she said that while she would never go, I could go and tell her if they said anything useful. I apologize if she is listening and didn’t want that told.
Here’s the thing. She was wrong. The grief counselor was brilliant. And the therapist I see every 2 months right now is brilliant too. And I’m still black. (Even though I can’t dance and some folks say I don’t sound black. Sound black? Another place, another podcast.) So Virginia, Black people do see the psychiatrist. I hope Jonathan’s is really good.
In Episode 007, I talked about how to stop criticizing yourself and become your own cheerleader and I meant every word. But the very next step demands that you not allow any person, or any institution, or any thing to become your biggest critic. Yes, that inner critic is dangerous, but so are external critics. And the damage that they can inflict should not be underestimated. How we choose to fight back isn’t nearly as important, as making a decision to fight. Fighting back could look like:
- Confronting the bully
- Avoiding the bully
- Involving an authority figure
- Removing yourself from the situation
None of these are ‘better’ than the other. Which tactic you choose will vary based on you, your skills, what the bully is costing you, and how much you have to lose. If I don’t care very much about the group and just want to avoid the bully, there is nothing wrong with that. There is choice and I pick my battles. Everything can’t be a learning opportunity or we would run around confrontational and exhausted all the time. However, we all have moments, those come-to-Jesus moments, when we declare, “ Oh Hell Naw! Right there, there’s the line. You can come right here but no farther.”
And then when that happens, you decide how you will fight. The critical step whenever criticism is present, whenever your line has been crossed, is for YOU to decide who you are and who you are becoming and who you will be. YOU, yes, I’m talking to you. This is your decision and responsibility. Step into it; run into its arms!
I am not preaching but there is a story in the bible about some of the teachers of the day telling Jesus to tell his disciples to stop speaking the truth. His response was, “If they keep quiet, the rocks will cry out”. I hear the rocks crying out and the truth of who you are should not be silenced.
You don’t have to tell me (but you can in the comments!) but think about this… Do you have a line that you need to draw? Now that you are starting to deal with your inner critic is there an external critic or an external situation that you need to decide your ‘oh hell no’ point? Are you heartbroken too? Are you just mad? I want to know. Let me know your thoughts on this particular situation or on defending yourself from external critics in general in the comment box below. It’s always better to be prepared and if your moment hasn’t come, it will.
GO! Make it a powerful day.