I was a lucky one. My parents were not alcoholics or addicted to food porn. They coached me in schoolwork, sports and the larger lessons of life. They taught me that bullies are acting out their frustrations and inadequacies. If you are offended, if someone “hurts your feelings,” that is your choice. You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control your thoughts and feelings. That is what thoughtful people do.

Most people did not have great parents or friends who loved MAD Magazine. They did not get the message (or the joke). People are easily offended and therefore prisoners of a primeval reactive state of mind that surrenders their power to the offenders. Calming breath work, and taking responsibility for your thoughts, are among the first lessons in our six-week leadership mentoring sessions. “A bully said what?” The student’s improvisational parodies are amusing. Once explained, the students get it.

On Valentine’s Day I gifted the group with a seashell, a treasured remnant from my older brother’s life. I asked them to listen and noted that each one heard something unique. Their exercise, to write: “What I have learned about love from you.” They wrote cards for their parents. Acknowledgement is a powerful force. Teaching our children to embrace responsibility and self-awareness is among the best we can do. Living by example is the key. If someone attempts to push your buttons, that’s their problem. That’s what Alfred E. Neuman would say.