I recently created a new flyer for the Gift of Happiness, and in doing so realized that almost everything I do can be boiled down into a single guiding principle: How we treat people matters.
It may or may not matter to other people how I treat them, but it matters to me. It's how I teach myself what kind of person I am.
A single formative example: Growing up, I was horribly mean to my sister. I regularly criticized her, belittled her, excluded her, ignored her, made fun of her, and took her for granted. I was a bully, and I paid for it.
I paid for it not just because I missed out on what could have been a close, loving relationship with my only sibling, but because of the damage it did to my sense of self. I learned to believe that, at my core, I was petty, mean, selfish and unlovable.
Meanwhile, my sister developed resilience, and simply learned to ignore me when I was being a jerk. All the criticisms I threw at her came back and stuck to me instead, each one just reinforcing in my mind how bad I was.
I will tell you from experience that people who think that they are no good have a hard time giving and receiving love, and are pretty lonely because of it.
In schools today there are a lot more conversations about bullying than ever before, but I wish more of them focused on the impact of bullying on the one doing it.
If I had realized how much my childhood meanness hurt me, would I have done it so much?
If I had learned that bullies deserve compassion as much as anyone else, might it have helped me to have more compassion for myself?
If I had known back then how powerful a small act of love could be, not just for the person receiving it, but for me, the giver, would I have tried it more often?
I honestly don't know what difference it would have made. (We humans seem to be very adept at filtering out information that doesn't fit our concept of the world.) But I do know how important it is for me to know all of this now, so I will say it again: How we treat people matters.
Even when those people are bullies.
And even when the bullies are us.