Real life stories

This thread describes real relationships and communities that follow the way of the healer. There is failure, and messy ambiguity, and hope.

We encourage you to submit a post telling us about a marriage, a family, a congregation, an organization, a community or an international situation you are aware of where the way of the healer is being attempted.

About the way of the healer

The root task of government is to meet our fears--to give us security, to keep social order, to deal with our enemies. We are testing a different way to meet those same needs, one not based
As a healer you gamble that even a terrible person has a trustworthy side, and you engage, betting that you can invoke that side. From Description: the healer at war.

We say a relationship or community is healthy when the people involved want a relationship even if they deeply disagree; they listen to each other, are respectful, voice their point of view, ask for what they want, gamble that the other is trustworthy, negotiate, don't avoid conflict, don't walk out, and don't use coercion. From Description: the healthy community.

A healer speaks to an enemy as if that enemy represented the very best that humanity can aspire to. From Description: the healer at war.

We negotiate. We live by asking. We ask, ask, and ask again. From Description: the healthy community.
on coercion (law) or violence (arms) or territory (state). We're provisionally calling it "relationship healing" or just healing.

A good mother wants a relationship with her grown children even if they have turned out very differently than she hoped. A healer wants and knows how to have a healthy relationship with people who are very different, even opponents.

The healer's strategy is to turn an enemy into a trustworthy opponent within a healthy relationship. They may remain adamantly divided, but they have a respectful relationship where their difference can be productive. This site reflects on ideas and experience in the tactics of healing.

Healing and coercion both carry risks. Arguably healing is riskier in the short term, while coercion is riskier in the long term--that's one of
Regardless of the way you follow—Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, whatever—-if you want to join with those from other ways who believe we can profit from our differences to improve all our ways of healing the world, then we need your story and your texts, we need you to help us learn to live together even when we remain very different.
the things we want to test. Arguably both healing and coercion are called for, in different situations--that's one of the things we'd like to clarify.

This site is for those living in a conflict situation, great or small, who have lost faith in coercion and control, and are willing to take some risks gambling that their enemies potentially have a good side.


The Description of the way of the healer is written in terms of how humans should relate to each other, as a working document among different religious and secular traditions.


We encourage you to submit a post describing

a marriage, family, congregation, organization, community, movement or government where the way of the healer is being attempted,

the texts and stories of your particular tradition--secular or religious--to teach, expand or critique the way of the healer,

an application of the way of the healer to some current social problem.

John Fairfield founded, with much encouragement and critique by Larry Alderfer Fisher. Posts explaining where they are coming from are here.


A list of organizations that advocate and use the way of the healer.

Submit a post

Please help elaborate and critique the way of the healer by commenting on existing posts, or by submitting a post of your own.


Email us at

Friday, February 25, 2011

Healing Bullying

John Fairfield (Mennonite Anabaptist Christian)

Relationship healing brings some insights to bullying.  I’m going to describe a “treatment” whereby a victim of bullying might be able to heal the relationship.  Now if I had a little aerosol can that when sprayed on a bully changed them into a good friend, we’d all be thinking “empower the victims”.  Yet if I told victims they had to take responsibility for the situation and overcome the bully, we’d all be thinking “victimizing the victims.”  What I will describe is in between. The treatment will often begin healing the relationship between the victim and the bully, but doing it takes much more skill than spraying an aerosol can.

Though the example I work through below speaks in very simple terms as to a child who is being bullied, I believe this approach works in the workplace and among adults. And though I believe it would work among children, practitioners and teachers can not recommend this method to children yet, it is too untested.  Perhaps a parent who knows their child well might decide to teach them this method after careful consideration.  If you do, please note exactly what you taught, and what transpired, and let us know.

 Background: the bully

All humans, bullies included, have been babies.  As a baby they were totally dependent on their relationship with their caregiver(s).  The fresh, direct look of a baby, deep into your eyes, is because the baby needs you.  If they cannot have a relationship with you that inspires you to care for them, they will die.  There are strings in my psyche that I did not realize existed until I held my firstborn and felt his pull on them.  Children are cute because they are so much work that if you don’t really want them, at some point you'd throw them in the river.  They know the power of relationship, they live by it or die from lack of it.

The question is, do they experience this relationship as manipulation, as control over you?  Or do they experience your care as a payoff for their submission to you, being under your control? Or do they experience it as a fair, healthy relationship with you? Over, under, or with?

Some caregivers don’t successfully navigate the passage between the terrific cost to them that their baby represents, and the enjoyment of a healthy relationship with a person who is just coming into being.  The relationship slips into being manipulated, or manipulating.

Some babies with loving caregivers have witnessed someone else bullying their caregiver.  Imitating this example, they’ve come to believe in manipulation rather than in the healthy relationship that was possible.

One way or another, bullies believe in control. Most bullies believe you must either win or lose, use or be used.  From lack of experience with a healthy relationship, they don't have any faith in anything but a relationship where they are in control.

Perhaps worse, some children grow up thinking that the only way to have a safe relationship with someone is to let that someone control them.  Someone important in their life taught them that nothing else was acceptable.  They too lack the experience of a healthy relationship.  They hope to survive not by controlling, but by being controlled by others.


Living with a friend can be a struggle.  You have to negotiate your space.  They don’t give you everything.  You have to ask.  Believe it or not, that’s the right way to have a relationship—if you really want something, you have to ask for it, and probably more than once.  But that’s ok, that’s normal, that’s the way it should be, that’s best.  It’s not your friend’s job to figure out what you want.

You don’t have to control your friends.  Why?  Because if they do something you don’t like, you can always fix it, you can work things out.  So relax, your friends will sometimes hurt you, but they don’t mean to and you’ll be able to work things out. Working things out is enjoyable—it pays off well.  It is one of the most important skills and pleasures of life.

Why not just control your friends?  Two reasons: it’s not fair, and it leads to a
control war.

Imagine every person having a space around them, a turf, that represents their rights and property and share of food and stuff.  Defend your turf, but fairly.  Sometimes people around you will move, and you might lose some ground here or gain some there. That’s normal, as long as it’s done fairly.  It is not acceptable if someone takes a chunk out of your turf unfairly.  So expect things to change, expect to have to defend your turf, but expect that you’ll be able to work things out.   You are safe if you and your neighbors know how to work things out fairly.

The Treatment

Suppose a bully taunts you, says your name wrong on purpose, threatens to hit you, or trips you—something like that.

Don’t fight, don’t run, do start working it out.

Don't fight, unless it could be sort of a fun fight and lead to friendship.  Some people just want to know whether you will push back, and all it takes is a bit of a tussle and they’re ok.  That’s a kind of working things out.

Don’t run away or give in, unless the situation is really dangerous.  In that case run, or give them what they want, and then get help—get some as fast as you can.  You owe it to everybody—yourself, the other people these bullies might hurt, and even the bullies themselves—to bring other people into the situation.

Do start working it out with them.  Believe it or not, inside the bully there is a good person who wants to work with you.  Speak to that good person, not to the bully personality.  The good person can help you out.  Ask the good person inside them to help you.  Remember, the good person understands what is fair.  Speak respectfully, as to a friend.

Go directly towards the bully.  If there’s more than one, go towards the leader.  Often this is the one who does most of the talking.  Let’s suppose the lead bully’s name is Bill.  Face Bill, and look straight at his eyes, deep into his eyes--you want to speak to the good person inside him.   Very respectfully say  “Bill, I respect you.  Can we work things out?”  The good person will get the message.

Tell the good person what it was that you didn’t like, and what you want.  So you could say “I don’t like being called ‘Miranda’ that way. I like it when it’s said normally, like this, ‘Miranda’.” Miranda is a fine name, but if they’re saying it in a way you don’t like, it’s your job to say what you want.

Often they were just trying out being a bully, they were imitating somebody else, and they agree with the good person inside them.  So they often back down.  That’s great, you’ve worked things out, and you’ve done them a favor.

They may say "So you don’t like it, tough."  But that might be just saving face.  Watch what they do.  If they quit taunting you (saying your name wrong, or hitting you or whatever it was), you've made a good first step.

But if they don’t quit, then if there’s anybody else around who is not helping you out, see if you can work with them.  Even if they are one of the bullies who usually hang out with Bill,  they might help you.  Give them the same treatment.  Suppose their name is Trish.  Go right up to Trish, look her in her eyes, and very respectfully say “Trish, I respect you.  Can you come with me to ask Bill to work things out?”

If Trish agrees, then the two of you together can go back to Bill.  Say the same thing you did to Bill before, only this time it’s two of you, and maybe you can get others to join you.  Make sure everyone respects Bill, that’s the only way the treatment works.


The treatment prescribed here opens the way for a healthy relationship between the bully and the victim.  The details matter—at every step, you must behave as if you expected the bully to turn into a good person.  You just might find that you have taken the first step toward turning a bully into a friend or ally.

No comments:

Post a Comment