Human To the End

The truth is that the strong don’t always survive. Usually the weak survive and the cowardly and the mediocre. They gather their forces to destroy the strong because the strong are at the core of their fear. (Pete Hamill, Forever)

Shortly after the publication of my children’s book, The One and Only Ben, I was invited to be the featured speaker for an anti-bullying program at a local institution and to read the book. (I’ll share more about that institution in a moment.) One of the themes of the book is self-faith, recognizing the capacities, gifts, and blessings that are ours alone. Needless to say, lack of self-faith and the correspondingly increasing rates of depression and suicides in our schools is a growing concern.

Though I’ve chronicled my own experience with depression and my abiding sympathy for people who suffer similarly (people who’ve experienced depression will never let another suffer alone), I have to say this: I don’t have much sympathy when it comes to children being bullied.

Yes. It’s horribly, unimaginably sad when children are tormented unto suicide and self-destructive behaviors. But if we believed we owe our children the senses of strength and independence they need to live their own lives (rather than making them the obsessive centers of ours); if we gave our children the time and attention they crave (rather than the pharmaceuticals we think they need); and if we taught our children to flatten bullies’ noses (rather than becoming the cringing victims on which bullies prey), they might not have to rely on national organizations to fight their battles for them.

Lest you find me heartless, permit me to say this, as well: The local institution to which I was invited wasn’t a school. It was a retirement living community. The program in which I participated wasn’t for children. It was for seniors. And even after having had retirement-living communities for clients, for the bullying of seniors I had no capacities for understanding, patience, or tolerance. But then I did a little digging.

According to

Between 10 and 20 percent of older adults living in senior living communities are mistreated by their peers, and often the behavior goes unreported.

And according to the Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook:

Dementia can sometimes be the cause of violence since someone with dementia may wrongly perceive things as threatening so they resort to a more primitive response … Bullying can also be a result of the human phenomenon of the strong picking on the weak and not a function of aging at all.

There you have it. To recast the terms of the Sourcebook in their relative reality, in the elderly, we see the human phenomenon of the weak picking on the weaker. In children who will grow older and stronger, who can learn to defend themselves, and who can move out of and beyond the circumstances in which they’re bullied, there is hope. In the elderly, there is only aging, weakness, and helplessness — even in those who bully to hide their fear of aging, weakness, and helplessness.

And, so, even with the institutional rules and order of senior living communities, we remain human to the end.

Learn more about the link between bullying and substance abuse with this guide by Keith Prance.


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. This was very interesting to read. We are indeed who we are until the end. I saw my own uncle lose his memories but not his character. It supports my stance that suicide is an illness.
    It really baffles me that a lot of the population do not see it this way. When there is no hope, you lose all sense of value. Without value, there is nothing…the only direction is to cross the line…the illness takes you. They lost their minds, literally.

    Good people do not want to be bad people. It really isn’t in our nature…so what gives….
    Thanks for this excellently written article Mark.

    • Paula, thank you so much.

      Suicide is an illness AND a symptom. And we can’t ignore either of those things.

      Given your comments, I suspect you’ll appreciate this:

      All of this speaks to the importance of connections and community. We are NOT alone. But it becomes increasingly easier to imagine we are.

      I’m so grateful that you‘ve joined this conversation … that we’ve connected.

      Thank you.

  2. Mark, thank you for a very poignant and insightful post and which affects every one of us every single day, in one way or the other. You shared a powerful message.

    Sadly, this unbecoming phenomenon can also be seen in many humanitarian situations and, oftentimes, can be more destructive in many of the” lesser developed” countries. Race, religion, cast and such like, do play a part in such behavior. In one particular senior citizens homes, run by a Christian group, and upon observing such unbecoming behavior, I got permission to glue a 8 inch x 8 inch unbreakable mirror to the entry door to each room, right next to the “peep window”( as they called it) with the following text:

    Remember YOU are walking into a holy place.

    Matthew 25:40-45

    40 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    Be blessed as you serve others.

    A remarkable change was noticed within the following three days. This reminds us of our own attitudes towards our fellow human beings, regardless of our, or their status in society. Recognizing our own vulnerability and with humility we can appreciate the ‘contribution’ others give to our own lives.

    Serving others with truth, kindness and with humility, allows us to discover and develop our spiritual gifts, to experience miracles and the joy and peace that comes from obedience.. ‘do unto others what you would have them do unto you.’

    “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    • Jonathan, you are an amazing man. Exhibit A: “Recognizing our own vulnerability and with humility we can appreciate the ‘contribution’ others give to our own lives.”

      What you did with that mirror is brilliant, plain and simple, as powerful a reminder as I can think of that our worth is determined by our regard for others. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said to Ebenezer Scrooge, “It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than MILLIONS like this poor man’s child.” (from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)

      Thank you for what you’ve contributed to this conversation.

  3. Wow, Mark, I guess it makes sense, and I can imagine it, but damn! So very human and very sad to know people tolerate bullying even in those circumstances. As I considered my personal growth ideas for 2020, I decided to speak up when I see someone being mistreated. I have in the past, but there were times I was quiet and shouldn’t have been.

    Sure, we can teach people to stand up to mistreatment, but we have to model standing up for others if we want them to do it, too.

    Thanks for sharing, another thing to consider as my mother ages!

    • Thank you, Sarah Elkins. I don’t mean to mince words. But I wonder if “tolerate” applies to the elderly as it does to the young. Young people have parents, teachers, friends, and others to help them negotiate their ways around bullies. The elderly are much more likely to be weak and alone. And those who care for them are likely stretched too thin to be of much help.

      By the same token, I positively agree with you about standing up for others. Something about my brother’s keeper ….

      Thank you being part of this important conversation.

    • There are times when an adult must step in, I have some experience with that with my children. We also gave our son who was being bullied lots of support and suggestions for dealing with the aggression himself. The most effective thing in those circumstances is to also make sure your kids are the ones standing up for others, that the kids themselves – their peers – are making it clear that being insulting and aggressive isn’t going to be tolerated.

      I’ve been the recipient of people standing up for me and am grateful, and it taught me that I could stand up for myself and others.

    • Okay, Sherry McGuinn. I know that’s you. 🤪

      Thank you for your note and for your thoughtfulness. I’m so happy you enjoyed the piece.

  4. Lately I have the feeling that the typical aggression of this prevaricatory act has changed its appearance. Doing evil no longer requires motivation. Evil, including bullying, has already moved considerably from the class of actions aimed at a purpose in the context of a pleasant pastime and entertainment. It is no coincidence that today, together with bullying, we also talk about cyberbullying. And above all, abuse is a hallmark of bullying at any age. Adult bullies are also worse and more aware of the consequences that their behavior can have on others and therefore more dangerous than their “colleagues”. Over the years, the victims lose the security given by the family and the walls of the house and find themselves alone to face incessant harassment.

    • Wow, Aldo. Your comments are so powerful. I’m going to take my time with them, digest them, read them some more, and admire your insight while I’m doing all that.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Brilliant.

  5. Mark…

    I appreciate you more and more for each range of writing you offer us. I watch monthly questionable actions happen regarding bullying in a seniors residence that I and other family members have had to stand up to. Some of it is covert and other is down right overt stuff. Some of those people in those residences with dementia have no one, I MEAN NO ONE – even at Christmas or special occasions to come and really monitor what is going on between interactions between staff and patients. This pisses me off at the best of days, but I also just have compassion and do my best to be uplifting to patients that I see who look amiss.

    This type of discussion you present here is summed up best at your final words ” we need to remain human to the end!”

    Important stuff you crafted here.

    • Maureen, there isn’t a day bad enough that it can’t be made good with a comment from you.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. And thank you for, once again, making my day.

  6. Oh my goodness, Mark, yes! I worked at a senior living facility in college and the bullying that went on among them was unbelievable! It was worse than high school! Because of their age they had lost all their inhibitions and felt they had earned the right to “tell it like it is” and holy smokes…! Did they ever! I had never thought of it as bullying until I read your piece, just a disintegration of human behavior, but this made me think of it in a whole new light!

    • The good news here, Kimberly, is that those who are bullied and those who don’t bully form much closer connections, finding and offering comfort and protection in their tribes. This is just one of the myriad reasons for which equality of outcomes is impossible to achieve. We need to be striving, instead, for equality of opportunity. And we need to be mindful of taking care of those less able to take care of themselves.

      Thank you for joining this conversation.

  7. Mark, there is so much in your article that is not only truth-filled but in addition, it evokes many teary-eyed emotions. Children that get bullied in school may wind up with scars that last a lifetime. Public School was a time when I experienced bullying because I was caucasian living in a predominately black neighborhood. We had such fun-filled days (meant sarcastically) as “kill whitey day” or “kill whitey wearing blue or gray day. My mother (of blessed memory) was in a couple of Rehabilitation Facilities (aka Nursing Homes) where there was no bullying from her fellow “residents” but certainly “inappropriate behavior” by the staff. More often than not it is the staff that mistreats the patients. From an up-close and personal vantage pint (I spent time in one of those places when I lost the ability to walk or care for myself) where oftentimes the staff was venomous. Bullying in any form is hurtful physically and mentally no matter how old or young the victim is. If you are made aware of a bullying incident or witness it you MUST report it. Thank you, Mark, for sharing your invaluable article.

    • I thank you, Joel, for sharing more of your story. And I admire you for your courage.

      I do have to tell you my perspective is balanced by the fact that yesterday morning, I was invited to share my children’s books with five Kindergarten classes at a public school. My books are very much about the power of love and friendship, caring and respect. I do my best to give children senses of self-respect because, if they love and respect themselves first, they’re much more likely to love and respect others.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m so grateful we’re connected here.

    • Mark, all thanks and credit go to you for your work, your caring, and for putting a spotlight on another issue that somehow has to be tackled.

  8. Thank you for this Mark! I think bullying cuts across all populations of society but often shows itself in different ways. I often say to my clients that bullies are cowards because if they were truly courageous they would not have to prey on those who may be more vulnerable.💖

    • Darlene, I’d have sworn I replied to your comment earlier. Apparently not.

      Bullies are definitely cowards for the reason you state. That’s why they back down as soon as their noses get bloodied (literally or figuratively). They don’t like evidence of their own vulnerability.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. What an important topic you focus on in this article, Mark. Sometimes children are bullied by adult family members, which then leads the these children being bullied by their peers or other significant adults in their lives. To unravel this challenge of bullying, it’s important to examine the impact of trauma, unregulated adults, addiction, mental and emotional undiagnosed illnesses. And sometimes the most important bully that sometimes gets overlooked is the one that exists in people’s minds-how they talk to themselves-the so called “inner critic” or in some cases “inner bully.” When we find pathways to healing the internal war in our minds, hearts, and souls, to find ways to make internal peace within ourselves(with the support of loving, compassionate other wise individuals), to break the ancestral cycles of abuse-physical, sexual, mental, and emotional, and to learn new ways of interacting with one another from a place of compassion, deep respect, understanding of basic human needs/of child developmental needs (neuroscience included), and awakened awareness (among probably many other possibilities), we’ll begin to create a world where bullying becomes uncommon, unlikely, and unconscionable. We have a long way to go.

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Thank you for the work you are doing in our world for both children and elderly adults in retirement living communities.

    • Laura, your wisdom humbles me. This rocked me: “Sometimes children are bullied by adult family members, which then leads the these children being bullied by their peers.” The reason it rocked me may be fodder for a conversation some day. And it won’t surprise you to know you’ll find this in The One and Only Ben:

      “This book is dedicated to every child who ever had a doubt.”

      We are the sum of our influences and the ways in which we’re able and willing to recognize, accept, and transcend them (if we’re lucky). I’m profoundly blessed for having been able to do all three … and to share the compassion it’s given me in my writing.

      Thank you for recognizing that. And thank you so much for your comments. ❤️

    • Absolutely, Mark. I, too, live profoundly grateful to have definitely recognized, accepted and mostly transcended the many forms of traumas I endured for too many years, to continue to connect with my resilient inner witness that has brought me safely home to my soul, to the comfort and safety of my own being-skin and all.

      For those who have endured the impacts of the ugly darkness of tortured beings-may they find the sweetness of Love-an unshakeable dignity, sensitivity, and ever-expanding compassion for all beings in their healing and transcending.

      Thank you so much for being a kindred one in, dare I say,-a commitment to peace, love, and compassion among human beings.

      I know your children’s book will help so very many: The One and Only Ben. Thank you for being receptive to what I have to share. I’m truly grateful. Thank you for being you.

  10. This article is an insightful read, Mark. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I think or read about bullying, it usually involves children and teenagers. I rarely hear about it happening with the elderly, although I am aware that it does happen. It’s disheartening to think about it yet it is worthy of discussion and awareness.

    Your point about remaining human to the end is spot on. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, or in this case, age, we are human to the end.

    I wasn’t aware of your children’s book, so I am intrigued and will have to put it on my reading list. I’ve always thought it would be fun to write a children’s book. Now I know someone who has done it!

    • Laura, thank you for your comments. Learning what I’ve learned is eye-opening to me, too.

      As for my books, I was busy while you weren’t looking: 😉

      I spent the morning sharing my children’s books at Pleasant Valley Elementary School in the town where we live. There’s no better way to start a day than to engage rooms full of young people whose eyes are wide and full of wonder. That would be Example of O’Brien’s Charmed Life #647,309,218.

      If you decide to write a children’s book, I’ll be the guy who looks just like me, encouraging the hell out of you.

    • Wow! You were a busy man while I wasn’t looking. Mind. Blown. I’m going to have to explore this myriad collection and expand my reading list. Did I say, wow? Wait, yes, I did! Very cool, Mark. Very cool, indeed. People keep telling me I need to write a book, and I think, maybe someday. Perhaps I need to stop thinking and start doing. The truth is I do have a 50,000 word novel in my drafts folder. So, there’s that.

      As always, it’s a pleasure reading your work, Mark and engaging with you. Thanks for putting your words out into the universe.

    • There no statute of limitations on my offer to help you with that book, Laura.

      In case you’re interested, a friend turned me on to a writing app called Scrivener:

      I bought it and intend to use it for a couple of longer works I have in the planning stages.

      Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments.