2016: The Year of the Bully

2016: The Year of the Bully

A lot has already been made about what a horrible year 2016 has turned out. Looking back, I can see many highs, but many, many, many more lows in 2016. I’m not here to complain. Instead, I want to try to make sense of it all: why was 2016 so bad?

There were a lot of great things that happened to me and even in the world, however, I will always remember 2016 as “The Year of the Bully.” 2016 was the year that uncivil, unreasonable, and unconscionable behavior flourished as accepted, mainstream and was often even lauded. It was a year with people who had overbearing confidence, although little competence, seemed the most successful.

A bully is someone who sees their power over you as a right to make you weaker. Bullies lack compassion and reason. They also have an innate feeling of superiority and seeming confidence, but the confidence is really a mask for their fear.

Bullies are often physical, emotionally, and verbally violent, but that’s actually not a pre-requisite for a bully. Whether expressed as anger, through a pervading sense of superiority, or both, at its core, bullying is really about fear: fear of difference, fear of losing power, fear of becoming irrelevant, fear of looking foolish, fear of being hurt. So the bully puts the person or people s they fear on the defensive as a way to make sure their fears do not come true.

In 2016, we saw the King of the Bullies crowned President of the United States, we saw the Czar of the Bullies help a prince of bullies slaughter civilians who opposed their will. We witnessed religious bullies run down, gun down, and blow up people in public spaces, hoping to make them fearful as well. We also saw religious bullies pass and enforce laws to deny their fellow citizens basic civilities. We saw trolling bullies belittle people who dared try to entertain us, because the entertainment was not to their taste. We witnessed friends bullying friends online in arguments over the bullies.

I know this did not happen all of a sudden. Bullying tendencies have been festering for years. But 2016 felt like the year in which the chickens finally came home to roost. It was the year the very confident seized power from the merely competent at the behest of the “common people” who were afraid of losing their cultures. It was apparent in online trolls who hid behind anonymity, afraid of loosing their past. It was apparent in our politicians for whom compromise is a loss of power, something they are always afraid of losing. Most notably, it was apparent in individuals who fear losing their privileged place in society.

This was not only true in the public sphere but also in my own professional and private life. I encountered many bullies this year who cost me dearly. I came up against people who seemed to think that reasonable settlement of disputes was unacceptable. I cannot say whether this was just my bad luck to encounter these people, or whether this is the result of the general trend in World Culture — bullying is not an uniquely American trait, I’m sorry to say — but the demeanor of more and more people I interact with is that “might makes right.”

And now my confession: I am a bully, or at least I am not immune from bullying other people from time to time. I had always felt the victim of bullies in my young life: the chubby kid everyone picked on for being different, weird, a bit slow. Then in eighth grade, a new kid joined my K — 12 school.

He was a bit plumper, a bit sheer, and was at my private school on scholarship. I was afraid of being bullied, so I bullied him for almost an entire year. Made fun of him, belittled him, and generally made his life difficult so that I could feel better about myself. I wasn’t the lowest on the totem pole anymore. I wasn’t the least athletic kid in a school that prized athleticism. I wasn’t the most awkward kid in a class full of overachiever.

Then one day I was walking down the hall and did something mean to him (I think I shoved him), and he said ,“Why do you do this to me?” and I had to stop and think, and it came to me almost immediately that I was doing to him what I hated others doing to me: I was the bully. I’m sorry, David.

I spent the rest of that year trying to make it up to him, and we ended up becoming good friends. He is wicked smart, and I like wicked smart people. But all through my life I have kept a careful eye on myself to make sure I don’t fall into that trap again. Unfortunately, I still fall for it from time to time.

That’s why it’s all the harder to see the destructive behavior of bullies all around me. I’m not sanctimonious about it, it’s natural human defense, but one that we should grow past as a species.

So what am I doing to make sure that 2017 isn’t the Year of the Bully, Part II?

First, is mindfulness. I’m practicing mindfulness meditation and I am amazed by how much this has helped me clear my thoughts and see clearly.

Second, have hope. I’ve put together a list of 17 songs to help me with hope in 2017. I recommend you make your own list, not of “favorite” songs, but songs that make you feel hopeful rather than afraid. If you do, let me know. I’d like to hear them.

Third, I will not tolerate intolerance. I know that sounds strange and counter-intuitive, but the one thing I’ve found cannot be tolerated is people’s intolerance of others. Have whatever opinions you want, whatever ideas, but do no harm to other people with your opinions.

hope 2016 is a year we look upon in the future as a turning point in how we perceived attitudes of fear, intolerance, and bullying. I hope we get past thinking that people with confidence are better than people with competence at leading us. And I hope you have a year full of hope and fulfillment in 2017.

The New Role-Model-in-Chief is a Bully

Donald Trump: The Bully-In-Chief

The President of the United States of America serves many critical duties beyond the mere title of the office: chief of state, chief executive, chief diplomat, and commander-in-chief of the military. He (because it has always been a man) also has many unofficial responsibilities: chief of his political party, guardian of the economy, and leader of the free world.

There’s another unofficial responsibility the President takes on and it is more important than all of the other unofficial and official responsibilities combined: Role-model-in-chief. The US President is the leader of behavior in this country—both for positive and negative ends—and represents this countries values to the rest of the world.

This is completely independent of his political outlook and are even separate from policies, although the policies are the actions through which the measure of the man might be taken.

Donald Trump is a bully. He has regularly spoken about excluding members of our country from meaningful discourse. He has encouraged violence at his own rallies. He is threatens to sue anyone who criticizes him. He has personally said that he can grab woman without their permission. As President, he is normalizing attitudes of coercion and intimidation. I say this as a simple, demonstrable fact.

I have heard some say that he simply said these things to get elected, that he didn’t really mean them, that he will now moderate his tone. Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, his behavior and attitudes set the norm for US Citizens and represent our values to the rest of the world.

Whether you agree or disagree with the President’s statements, policies, or actions, he is the one who sets the standards we will all be acting on and reacting to for at least the next four years. If that person talks about exclusion, encourages violence, constantly threatens litigation, denies experts, and speaks positively about personal assault, then those traits begin to become acceptable within our society at large.

As the Role-model-in-chief—whether — whether you agree with his politics or not — President Obama was always calm, always informed, always engaged, and always present. Even at the most outlandish of accusations, he kept his cool. He could not keep all of the promises he made, but I never felt this was for lack of belief in the promises themselves, only the circumstances he found himself dealing with.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, flies off the handle at the slightest slight. He attacks anyone who criticizes him and then, in a typical bullies fashion, tries to make out as their fault and expects them to apologize. He plays this game time and again, and it seems to work. His attacks do not have to be accurate, realistic, or even reality based. In fact the more outlandish, the accusations, the more impossible they become to refute.

How do you answer the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” These are the kinds of rhetorical situations Trump’s opponents find themselves in when dealing with him, and he can now officially be declared the grand-master champion of this tactic.

This is actually the smart bullies tactic: attack, attack, attack and then act conciliatory. You put your opponents on the defensive by barraging them with insults, condemnations, and accusations, pushing them off-balance, forcing them to try to attack back just as viciously and then offer them the olive branch. If they don’t take you up on your “peace offer,” then can act unapologetically hurt that they have acted with so little compassion. If they take your offer, you act like they are your closest friend and confidant, making them feel special, because the bully isn’t bullying them anymore.

We see this again, and again, and agin in Trumps play book. Whether it’s “blood streaming out of her whatever” Megan Kelly, “lyin’” Ted Cruz, “little” Marc Arubio, or countless others, he initially attacks outrageously and then makes peace. His opponents accept so that he will stop attacking them and, as a result, they stop attacking him back. And they did, and some began to support him, even if only tepidly. The one case where this did *not* seem to work was with Jeb Bush, but that didn’t end up costing Trump anything in the end, so effective were his attacks.

And that’s who we have chosen as our Role-model-in-chief to represent the United States of America, a country many were already fearing as the great big bully on the block, threatening their neighbors, ignoring the world community, and only worried about themselves. It looks like we have proven them right.

Trump, The Supreme Court, & Abortion

I was talking to a friend of mine at a party the other day who, half-heartedly, admitted to me that he couldn’t stand either of the Presidential candidates, but was voting for Donald Trump because of the supreme court appointments he would make. The subtext was simple: “I’m pro-life and want to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

I can understand that to a point. I don’t think abortion is something anyone should ever have to go through. At the same time, I think the best way to prevent abortions is not to make them illegal, but to make them unnecessary. No woman should ever have to be pregnant if they do not want to. To do that takes education and easily available contraception. No, we will not stop people from having sex. Sorry, that’s a non-starter as a strategy to reduce pregnancies.

If you don’t think people should be having sexual intercourse before marriage, than that is a completely different discussion, one you should not be hiding behind abortion to make. People will have sex without the intent to procreate. Whether you like it or not, that is a fact. And if you think pregnancy, then, is a consequential punishment they (i.e. the woman) has to endure for their desire for pleasure, then that’s a debate I want to hear you argue.

Getting back to my friend, he’s willing to put the future of the United States, the future of his children, the future of his children’s children… into the hands of Donald Trump because he wants abortion to be illegal. I invite my friend to think carefully about that goal. Is that worth putting a self confessed sexual predator, bully, anti-intellectual, racist, and misogynist into the highest office of our United States of America?

Instead, let’s work for a world where abortion is not illegal, but unneeded except in dire circumstances where the woman has been raped or the mother’s life will end. Let’s make all other needs for abortion unnecessary rather than illegal. That’s what Hillary Clinton says she will do.

Donald Trump will not take us into that world, but rather create a world where abortions are needed out of desperation. Donald Trump does not respect women beyond their aesthetic value as objects of beauty. After that, he is done with them. He has several children, yet leaves his children’s mothers as soon as they have served their purpose.

If you are voting for Trump simply because he gives lip-service to being “pro-life”, please look closely at the issue or you may end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

5 Things I am & am NOT afraid of

5 Things I am not afraid of:

  1. ISIS coming into my grocery store and blowing it up.
  2. Immigrants raping and stealing.
  3. An epidemic of pot smokers.
  4. An invasion by China or Russia.
  5. Having bureaucrats in Washington appointed by elected politicians decide my healthcare.

5 Things I am afraid of:

  1. Not having enough money to pay my grocery bill.
  2. People being shot for the color of their skin.
  3. An epidemic of pot smokers having their families torn apart and being imprisoned for decades just for having a few joints.
  4. Spending all of our money on the military while our schools suffer.
  5. Having bureaucrats in insurance companies appointed by profit driven CEOs decide my healthcare.

There and Back Again, Day 7

Jason speaking about Temporal Design Thinking.

The big moment finally came for me to give my closing keynote. It felt really good, like I was teaching them something that felt true while also being forward thinking. Thanks to everyone who tweeted these pictures of me, and the staff at UX New Zealand for their amazing conference and giving me the opportunity to speak at it.


There and Back Again, Day 6

UX New Zealand 2016

I spent the day at the UX New Zealand event, watching some amazingly inspirational speakers. I was supposed to go out for dinner with some but went back to stow my bag and rest my foot for a few minutes and woke up the next morning!

There and Back Again, Day 5

I visited the Te Papa museum in Wellington. The Gallipoli exhibit was amazing with life-like statues at 3 times human scale. Each of the statues in these pictures are like giants in the room.

There and Back Again, Day 4

Bigger on the inside

We had a great turn-out for my talk at the UX Wellington meetup— sixty folks showed up, and we had a great time. I even got them all to hold hands at one point and sent electricity around!

There and Back Again, Day 1-3(ish)

Panoramic view of the city.

Although it only took me 36 hours to get from Washington DC to Wellington, NZ, I left on Saturday morning and arrived Tuesday afternoon. Must be some of that timey-wimey stuff.