Bullies, Boundaries, and Forgiveness

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to teach my girls the importance of setting clear boundaries. Whenever there are issues at school between The Tortoise and her friends I often ask one simple question: “Who gives them the power?” She reluctantly responds, “I do mom”. We role play, journal, participate in leadership programs and have family talks about how we want to be treated. The emphasis is always placed on setting boundaries that are about respecting others and respecting ourselves. You may think it is excessive – but I see it as being well-armed, strong and well-spoken. Because children that are bullies only grow up to be adult bullies, we will always be required to “play well with others”. However, I think I have failed at explaining to them that sometimes setting boundaries are painful and possibly require us to walk away from something that we love.

This week I have declared a boundary line I am not willing to move or negotiate and as a result will require me to leave something I love. This music season started out with so much promise. I auditioned for a principal position with a local community orchestra and was chosen. It felt like I had just finished first in a 5k race; adrenaline pumping, limbs numb, a smile as big as Texas. It has been many years since I had been able to be a part of an orchestra, but it only took a few steps from the audition room to the rehearsal room to realize that this was going to be a difficult season. Immediately I was met with animosity and resentment by players not chosen as principal. I had hoped since we had worked together before that this would be a passing response. I knitted a protective cloak, threaded with professionalism, patience, and silence. But it started to unravel week after week with each gesture, each comment, each look of disdain pointed towards me. Those that I thought would help to hold together some semblance of peace only added fuel to the fire by placating the brash and bully behavior.

Friday evening my cloak was thread bare, almost see through. I had few threads left to hang on to and became completely unraveled when another slew of rude marks rushed at me unexpectadly. Strength of silence was no longer appropriate and I responded directly and clearly.

“I do not like it when you speak to me that way. I don’t know what I have done to offend you but you have not been nice to me. This behavior is unacceptable and I can not work with you if this is how I am going to be treated.”

Breathe, breathe, breathe. My whole body shook, nausea swept over me, my palms started to sweat as hives began forming on my cheeks. I had drawn the line and now I waited for a response. I’m not sure what I expected to happen. I know an apology was the hope but instead the return response was more rude remarks. They shredded the last bit of professionalism and patience that was left. They stung my ears, kept me from hearing. I absorbed only bits of what was said:

“…you…drama…selfish…causing problems…making a big deal out of nothing…”

I couldn’t hear anything anymore, my ears just kept ringing and apparently my voice was in my stomach because I had no response other than to flee. Leave quickly, don’t look back. So I packed up my instrument and quit.

Today will be an uncomfortable moment but necessary. Today I will play one last concert because I gave my word that I would finish what I started but even now as I type this my hands are shaking. My heart is beating rapidly thinking about facing her again. I have seen small images of generosity and kindness in this woman over the years in her personal life. I know she works hard behind the scenes to support this organization in other areas. Unfortunately our professional relationship has not revealed the same picture. And now I have set a boundary. I’ve stated that I can not volunteer in such a hostile environment which means it is I that will have to move on; walk away from playing some beautiful music because it was made abundantly clear that this situation is not going to change.

Forgiveness? Eventually. My heart and my pride is broken at the moment and needs some time to mend. I received an email from this woman last night. However when you make the statement, “I apologize but…” it negates everything. There is no apology, only excuses. There is no remorse, only righteousness.

This is a difficult lesson for my children. Leaving could imply that I have “given the power” to this bully, that I got forced out – but if I stay with little support to keep this behavior at bay – then I am giving the message that it is okay to treat me unkindly. So I choose the more difficult option. I choose to move on and follow through. I choose not to work with this person any longer.

I choose.

7 thoughts on “Bullies, Boundaries, and Forgiveness

  1. you did the right thing Emily. You surely did. It’s all too bad.I feel bad for you. I know how much you love to play and what happened is the ugly side of music and musicmaking rearing its head. Take care and hope you’re doing ok.

  2. I feel sad for you that you lost something you enjoyed so much. It takes a lot of courage to do what you did. You are a great roll model for the Tortoise and the Hare.

  3. ohhh sweetie, I am sorry. Wish I was there. You are doing the best thing for YOU. Good for you for setting the boundary…and for keeping it! I am proud of you.

  4. Wow. Good for you for speaking up. I’m sorry things didn’t turn out as well as they could have. It amazes me how bully behavior is as strong and apparent in adults as it is in kids.

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