December 2015


I’ve been thinking about bullying a lot lately. My younger clients are often getting bullied at school, so I started looking for videos about how to handle bullying. That genre, it turns out, is both boring and useless. On the way, though, I fell down the strange and compelling rabbit hole of bully-fail videos. Someone is getting picked on, has enough of it, and fights back effectively. The bully thinks they are picking on someone weak, but they turn out to be tough. They make me squirm, just watching people treat each other so badly, but there’s something gripping about them, too.

Here’s an example:

This  next one is a compilation mostly of the same type, but the section that got to me runs from 7:07 to 9:28, and is part of a less common but more moving version: Someone is getting bullied and someone else steps in to protect them.

I’ve watched the section from 7:07 to 9:28 many times now, and my reaction changed over time. The first time I was just really uncomfortable, waiting for Will to protect himself and then oh, so relieved when someone stepped up. After the first time, the painful part is how long it takes for anyone to stick up for him. I suppose they are giving him a chance to fight back, but it’s a really long chance. The other kids want to see a fight. After getting to that point, I started noticing how all these bully-fail videos are really bystander-fail videos. How is it OK, or even funny, that this particular bullying is going on? Where are all the tough but nice kids stepping in to stop bullies? There are no principles at play here except dominance, until someone steps up. And when someone does, it’s a major leveling up for the hero, from might-makes-right to some sense of principled right and wrong. From the standpoint of physical dominance hierarchies, protecting a weak person is taking on a liability to do the right thing. That weak person will be grateful, and might help you finish your math homework, but they will almost never help you out in a fight. And let’s face it – you probably don’t care much about your math homework.

I know those moments are a big deal because it happened to me. In 6th grade there was a kid who’d failed a couple times, much bigger than any of the other kids, who started pushing me around one day on the basketball court. I was small and sensitive and felt completely helpless. Suddenly, another kid knocked the first kid down, probably hit him a few times, and said something like, “If you touch my friend again, I’ll  kick your ass again.” I still feel choked up, thinking about it, more than 30 years later. That’s how it should go.

[I look for this hero every year or so on the internet and he’s never turned up. Terry Quakendal. I’d like to thank him, as an adult, for what he did.]

This last one is not a bully fail video, but quite interesting. An adult calls his childhood bully to talk about what happened:

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“I like the brevity of the blog. You can make it quite short. You can just go on as long as you want to go and then just stop. It’s sort of like making a paper airplane…. I used to love to make paper airplanes. I made great paper airplanes.  You throw it out the window, it goes a little ways, turns and curves beautifully and then it’s gone forever. It’s like a blog.”

Roger Angell, at 95, on The New Yorker Radio Hour

Ah, yes, it’s so easy to write a blog post. To the extent that writing anything meaningful is easy, writing a blog post is easy. It’s as low stakes as public writing gets, especially on a small-time blog like mine. Nothing for sale, no sponsors, few readers.

And yet I haven’t been writing, despite all the inspiration and satisfaction I’ve gotten from it over the years. My list of ideas for blog posts has more words in it than I’ve actually posted in the last 10 months. It makes me sad to think about. I miss the way writing clarifies my thinking. I miss the way writing makes some contact with the friends and family members who don’t live next door to me. I’m out of touch with so many of you. And I’ve had too many interesting ideas swim in and back out of my head, unchecked by writing.

I’ve also been noticing how not writing makes my internet presence stagnate. I’ve been listening to a ton of podcasts and audio books on my commute, often in intense imaginary conversations in my head with the authors/podcasters. I’d like to be getting in touch with them on Twitter or something, at least to say thanks. When I remember that my last blog post is about the common ants of Joshua Tree, though, I refrain. I love that post, but it’s a funny way to represent myself, especially as the only public observation I’ve made in ten months.

The thing is, I’m working like crazy on getting my license for marriage and family therapy. I talk to clients and write case notes all day, which is not inspiring writing and results in too much time looking at a computer screen. If I have energy after work, I can’t be sitting down writing. I need to go the gym or scramble on some rocks. Or play piano, or rest, or spend time with my wife and family, or get ready for work or bed. It’s a good life, just no blogging for now. I’ll be back.