Negotiating with Rich, White Bullies
“I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it?… A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. “ — Love, Actually.
I’ve always been bullied. Probably not a surprise given I’ve always been small for my age, had glasses as a child and even expressed the wrong genetic code from my primarily rugged Irish-farming and Scandinavian and Cornish-seafaring/Viking roots. I was the token member of my family to express the stereotyped Italian, Iberian and perhaps even Jewish roots. Small, nerdy and quickly darkening in complexion when I touch the sun. I even liked school. Not a great start.
And as a girl I was raised in the Michelle Obama code of “When they go low, you go high”, trying to ignore the nasty kids who punched me in the face in the playground to break my glasses or threw gum in my hair for the hell of it. It was the typical John Hughes Film.
It wasn’t until I moved out of New York, to a smaller and more observable dynamic where once again I’m being bullied, albeit “politely” by centuries of misplaced notions of white colonial power that I started noticing a pattern. That those who are like me — whether Women, People of Color, Immigrants, and/or Survivors of disease and trauma — are now in the majority. This is true in Bermuda, New York City, The USA (especially the Democratic Party) and around the world. And yet we are still being bullied because we have been raised by the Michelle Obama code, the Christian Code, the Gandhi Code and the MLK code… that “Might Will Never Be Right”, that all just voices will be raised up, and the bad guys will ultimately lose. And yet they keep Winning! And we keep Losing! Our reproductive rights, our rights to affordable healthcare, a stable job. even our right to vote, shop safely in supermarkets or ride the subway without someone threatening to take our very lives away.
Until I watched Volodymyr Zelenkyy go against that code. Instead of doing what the Rich White Putin Bully expected — turn the other cheek and let Russian troops and tanks roll over his country — he leveraged his comfort on camera and scrappy celebrity in multiple languages to go public, and call on all of NATO and Ukraine itself to punch back. To die punching back. And I started to pay attention. Because NATO did what NATO NEVER DOES. It came together, it cut Russia off, it sent unprecedented military and monetary support, it even recruited new member states. It was EFFECTIVE! WHAT???!!!!
At almost the exact same time that Russia invaded Ukraine my landlords decided to pull some similar stunts with me, even sending an eviction notice when there was no lease or certificate of occupancy for a residence to legitimately evict me from. Long and short, I once again retreated into “bullied” territory, not knowing how to respond, except to remember that I’d been there before with a dirty, lying, bullying landlord in New York. In a very similar Commercial/Residential/Zoning dispute 12 years ago that left me shaken, depressed and helpless.
It wasn’t until my own bulldog of a New York Attorney stepped in (just like Zelenkyy) and — while laughing and cracking a well-timed joke — simply said “NO!” that the relief and strength in my own legs returned to stand up. Not to “Go High”, however. But to step down.
So, if you are feeling a similar sense of intimidation to ignore or compromise on something you know isn’t just, or even remotely, RIGHT, pick your foot up high and put it down, HARD and LOW. And say “NO!”
Holly Lynch is a 20+ year ESG and DEI communications veteran, board member, strategist and investor who has helped individuals and companies tackle the toughest challenges, transitions and transformations in their worlds. Having survived countless life setbacks and two rounds with terminal cancer, while seeing the country-wide collapse of the systems and safety nets for the most vulnerable in and outside our communities, she is now shifting her life and career trajectories to focus on coaching and consulting with those facing down fundamental shifts and transitions as they try to adapt to change while rebuilding their lives and businesses during these unprecedented times.