Everybody Picks on Johnny

“I’d do anything for my child.” If you’re a mom or dad, and even if you aren’t, you can understand that sentiment. You already know that some children, and even some adults, seem to be “picked on” more than others. No matter whether it’s school, the playground, university, or even the workplace, life progresses smoothly for some folks, while for others, every interaction is a struggle.

For example, little Johnny has had trouble throughout his life: with teachers, neighbours, friends, everyone. In school, he would see his friends pass in late homework regularly and get credit for it. Yet when little Johnny was just two days late with his science project, he was penalized. “Not fair,” he grumbled to his parents.

Now grown up and working, Johnny sees his coworker, Sam, leave early without a blink of the eye from his supervisor. Johnny tried it once, and got hauled in to the big boss for a warning. Everything, and everyone, seems so unfair.

Folks agree that Johnny’s not a bad guy. But he always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Friends say, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, Johnny wouldn’t have any.” If anything can go wrong, it will—for Johnny.

If you care about Johnny, this can be disheartening to watch. Reality therapy concludes that we can only control our own behaviour, not someone else’s. So, you can’t control the people picking on Johnny, nor can you control Johnny’s behaviour. Is there anything you can do that would be helpful?

Here’s an idea: while we can’t control others, we can certainly provide information. If Johnny is open to receiving information, you could start by encouraging him to carefully examine his perceptions.

It may be that the reality of the situation is quite different from Johnny’s perception. As I’d mentioned, years ago little Johnny was late finishing his science project; it cost him a major part of his mark. When Johnny complained about unfairness to his parents, he left out the part where being late had caused him to miss the science fair, while his friends’ lateness was for less critical assignments that didn’t justify a similar penalty.

Fast forward to today, and Johnny’s perception that his coworker, Sam, can leave work willy-nilly with no negative consequence. That, too, turns out to be a misperception. When Johnny (nicely) asks Sam, he learns that Sam is permitted to take time off to accompany his ailing wife to medical appointments, providing he makes the time up in the evening. Hmm. Johnny being warned about leaving early to go fishing doesn’t seem quite so unfair now, does it?

That said, when you do examine perceptions carefully, you’re not likely to find that everything is perfectly as it “should” be, with the virtuous and good-hearted blessed with only positive results, while the evil and nefarious suffer nasty consequences. Reality isn’t that straightforward, is it?

If, after Johnny has examined his perceptions, he still thinks that he’s consistently treated unfairly, are there any other helpful suggestions you might offer? What do you think? I’ll offer my suggestions in the next column

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