It is an honor to have one of our facilitators, Steven Kimmelman, share his story with you about Compassion, Forgiveness and the Bully. Enjoy!

“As I live each day, it’s hard to imagine compassion and forgiveness, and their opposites, not being present. Whether I am conscious of them or not, there are so many things that occur where compassion and forgiveness for myself or for others are in play.

Sometimes I’ll tell a friend I will call him the next day but don’t, and don’t communicate that I’ll do it another day. Sometimes I’m on the receiving end of that.
​​​​Sometimes I make a promise to myself and then don’t keep it. It may be minor or something significant.
​​​​​Sometimes I speak insensitively towards my loved ones. Sometimes someone dear speaks harshly to me.
​​​​​​​I often observe or hear people I care about speak of difficulties in their relationships – wrongs that are being done to them, or behaviors they choose that are not respectful.
Do I respond to myself and others with tenderness, empathy, and compassion? Or do I respond to myself and others with blame, indifference, or harshness?

​​​​​​​The invitation to compassion for myself and others is everywhere! As is the opportunity for forgiveness. Though we often think of these for the “big” moments in our lives – the big things that have happened – I have come to see even the smallest opportunities as vital to me learning how to be a more compassionate and forgiving person.
​​​​​​​And my biggest lesson so far is that I MUST be compassionate and forgiving of myself, in everything I do, if I am to be a fully healthy, happy adult.

​​​​​​​At my weekly men’s group gathering, we were recently asked to share something we never shared before – something we feel shame about or of something we are proud. Just as I prepared to speak, a forgotten memory raced through my mind. Surprised, I knew I needed to reveal it.

​​​​​​​For me, this story is one of my biggest lessons around compassion and forgiveness, and so I am outing myself for the first time with everyone at COR.  In my adolescence, approximately grades 7 through 9, I was a classic bully. Now, in truth, I was and have always been, a far more complex person than a one-dimensional personality. At the same time that I was a bully, I also maintained relationships filled with kindness and caring.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​However, a significant part of my journey during these years was that of an appalling bully. There were two boys in my classes to whom I was very mean, cruel, and merciless – just as you sometimes see in the movies.  I tormented them often daily, sometimes several times a day.”

“It has taken time to understand what might have been my motivation; that awareness and understanding had eluded me for decades.  I know I wanted them to stand up to me – to stand up for themselves. That was my primary desire. As best as I can piece together now, my subconscious reason for this is that I wanted more than anything to stand up to my father. He was often mean and cruel toward my mother, and I wished to defend her. Moreover, she did not stand up for herself most of the time. However, I was far too scared to stand up to him. Everyone seemed afraid of my father.

So it seems I was working through my inner conflict by having it express itself through bullying – seeking the satisfaction of having these boys stand up for themselves as a proxy for me in a way that I could not with my father.

Eventually one of the boys did and after a few more “tests,” I shifted my relationship with him. He and I became friends. However, the second boy never did stand up for himself, and so I tormented him until we changed schools.

Fast forward several years. I was traveling from the East Coast after visiting family with my former wife and then young toddler, Naomi. It was to be a six-hour flight in a plane with a 2-5-2 seating layout. We were stuck in the middle of the five seats. Naomi was a non-stop ball of energy – she was not going to sit still, or sit at all for that matter! I decided to speak with the flight attendant at the gate counter about getting the bulkhead seats where there is plenty of room for Naomi to do her thing.
As I spoke to him, he looked somewhat familiar. I looked at his name tag, and there he was – the boy I tormented all those years! He was gracious and did not let on that he knew me. Returning to my wife, I briefly told her the story, and said, “I HAVE to go up to him and apologize.”

I walked back up to the counter and said, “You’re {name} from McManus Junior High School, aren’t you?” He nodded with a knowing look. I continued, “I just want to say that I’m sorry for….” But he didn’t let me finish my sentence. He finished it for me with, “…making my life a living hell!” I paused. I allowed the significance of his words to touch me at my core. I took a deep breath, steadily looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes. I’m so sorry.”
He remained gracious and accepted my apology. He even gave us the much sought after bulkhead seats.

What I have come to learn is that if I wasn’t willing to have compassion for myself, and to thoroughly forgive myself about this, I would remain tormented by it to this day, even after he forgave me.  Forgiving myself isn’t about pretending that it wasn’t horrible behavior, it’s about allowing myself to be human, to make mistakes, even big ones. And to give myself permission to learn and grow so I can be better the next time.
My invitation to you is to look as honestly as you can, without judgment, at all the places you are not being compassionate with yourself. And where are you not forgiving yourself? Whether it is a small or a big thing, make a list. Then see if you can bring some awareness and understanding to your past behaviors.

Watch for if you’re remaining mean to yourself and not forgiving yourself as a self-punishment? Or maybe you think it’s an indication that at least you feel remorse and guilt? Or perhaps you hope it’s a technique that may lead you to “never do that again”?

I suggest trying the opposite. Go through your list and find compassion and understanding for each behavior. Forgive yourself for each and every one. Not because they were necessarily okay, but because you are inherently a good and decent person, and you’ll do your best to be more conscious next time.”

Celebrating and honoring your humanity,