Cutting people down or building people up?

tall poppy

Every day we have opportunities to cut people down or to build people up.

Which will we do?

Valerie Cade, the founder of Bully Free at Work writes, “Have you heard of the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome?’  In Australia, where poppies grow, they for the most part grow to the same height.  Every once in a while, one poppy grows higher than the rest.  What do you think [the growers] do?  You got it…they come along and chop the poppy down to match all the others.  This is the same methodology a bully will take with…a high achiever.  Workplace bullies by nature are very insecure people…. The insecurity of workplace bullies is far reaching.  They feel socially inadequate, behaviorally and morally.  While they present a public image of superiority, supremacy and bravado, underneath it all they feel profoundly inadequate.  Workplace bullies, rather than facing their inferiorities, choose instead to lash out at people who threaten their superiority.”

Sherri Gordon applies similar perspective to the matter of bullying among children.  She writes, “Sometimes envy rears its ugly head when a person feels a sense of inadequacy, emptiness or unworthiness.  In these cases, kids want to close the gap between what others have and what they want.  So the goal behind their bullying is to bolster their own feelings of self-esteem at the expense of another person.”

Interestingly, the first story in the Bible, following the account of the creation and fall, is a story of envy and cutting someone down in contrast to the call to look out for one another.  Cain is jealous of his brother Able, so he strikes him down.  When God asks Cain about the whereabouts of his brother, Cain ashes out, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  (In other words, ‘Do you expect me to look out for Cain like he looks out for his lost sheep?’)  God says to him, “What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

There’s the contrast: We can cut others down, or we can look out for one another to build each other up.  Which will it be from us?

I have often found myself challenged by a story Tom Wicker shares in his book, On Press, describing a lesson he learned when he was 23:

“As a correspondent for the Sandhill Citizen in Aberdeen, N.C., I covered a divorce case that involved one party who had futilely chased the other with an ax.  It was the human comedy at its most ribald, and the courtroom rocked with laughter.  I wrote a humorous account for page one.  The next day I had a visitor: a worn-out woman whose haggard eyes were blazing.  ‘Mr. Wicker,’ she said, ‘why did you think you had the right to make fun of me in your paper?’

“I have never forgotten that question.  My story had exploited unhappiness for the amusement of others.  I had made the woman something less than what she was—a human being.  Seeing that, I saw, too, that I had not only done her an injury but had missed the story I should have written.”

So often, we, too, use our words to cut others down, but we have the opportunity to do something better.  We have the opportunity to build people up rather than to cut them down.




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