I forget the context and time in which I heard these words come from the mouth of the father of one of my ~friends from the neighborhood. But they have stuck in my head despite the fact that I have not seen either the ~friend or his father in somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years. The manner in which this man enunciated those words, a manner that let everyone within earshot know he was very serious about it, is something I will remember for the rest of my life. (If you are reading this, your family name happens to be Spencer, and you lived on Darling Street during the 1980s and 1990s, please send me a message through here. I would love to hear from you.)
The reason this subject has come to mind of late is because of this entry on Lydia Brown‘s journal. By now, you will have noticed that Lydia and I have very different views, experiences of life as an autistic citizen of wherever, and levels of diplomacy. But this is a topic in which were are completely in agreement about the basics.
I think it is worth talking a bit about where bullying comes from. When we were cavemen, feudal, or pre-industrial beings, we defined ourselves by what we had in common with our tribespeople, and by how our enemies differed from us. Them’s darker-looking than us, them’s shorter, heavier, and hairier than us, them’s language is different than ours, even them’s think differently to us, and more, to cite very real examples we encounter even today. And whether we like it or not, we also teach that behaviour to our children today. Up until the time we reach puberty, we learn so much from the examples set by family, friends, and school that entire songs have been dedicated to how we resemble one or more of these people in spite of how we have fought it. Rollins Band has one called Just Like You, for example.
Children do not instinctively bully other children. For one thing, the previously-mentioned evolutionary mechanism from which bullying derives might be built into us, but it is also obsolete. The conditions under which it derived are, as of 2012, no longer with us. They may return if the overpopulation problem continues to escalate, but the point is that those conditions largely disappeared at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The only reason it continues is because old habits die hard.
In order to create a bully, one must do certain things. One must first define for the new bully an enemy. This is a very simple process. So much so that we do not even know we are doing it, a lot of the time. For one, we must point out who the enemy is. This enemy can be women, people with differently-coloured skin, people who are not inclined to throw balls across fields, people who have a certain hair colour… the list is literally endless. But this is not enough. The second step is to convince the would-be bully that this difference is bad. This is the most subtle part of the process. Sometimes it can just be an inflection of your voice when you mention the person to the would-be bully. It really is that subtle. Then, finally, you must convince the would-be bully that the reason this person differs from them is bad, and that makes the person bad.
No matter what a person does, having people wage a constant campaign of terror against them is automatically undeserved. And that applies doubly when the manner in which the person differs from you is involuntary. That is, they cannot help it. Now, if you have read the page on Lydia’s journal that I have linked to, or the article referenced therein, you know by now that the specific example in mind is the savage assault of a girl with acquired brain injury and hydrocephalus. I do not know all of the specifics, but acquired brain injury can come from a number of places. It can be from an accident, it can be from an adverse medical event, it can even be the result of a mishap during birth. But one thing I think we can agree is categorically true is that nobody, nowhere, not even when they are in their wrong mind, and especially not a twelve year old girl, aspires to have an acquired brain injury. In a society like Australia, having an acquired brain injury can entail being left to sit in your own filth for four days out of the week, or more. So anyone who tries to tell me that one might choose to have an acquired brain injury is going to receive one from me.
Even if you discount the acquired brain injury factor, setting upon one girl with four of your friends simply because they said a male you happen to know was “cute” is utterly unacceptable behaviour. If five adults did this to a workmate in similar circumstances, a jury would be deciding whether they are fit to walk the streets. That we condone such behaviour in children at all shows just how poor an attitude we really have in terms of the protection of our most vulnerable.
When I was a boy growing up in Sydney, I often said that school was a “prison” designed to “punish children for being children”. I said this so many times that anyone who was around and fails to remember is automatically a fukkhead as far as I am concerned. And prisons, I am sure you can recall, harbour some of the most savage behaviour that still occurs in the modern world. Whilst it is true that there are guards tasked with keeping the prisoners in line, they are not exceptionally compelled to protect prisoners from each other. So murders, rapes, torture, mutilations, and other fun things that would be completely unacceptable in polite society, occur with far greater regularity in prison. After all, when you cram violent offenders into an enclosed area without much opportunity for segregation from one another, you could almost argue that that was the intent. So when I tell you that ten year old me compared school to such a savage abode of the damned as prison, I want you to understand my fullest meaning.
If you gang up in a pack of five and beat a girl so severely that she is afraid to return to school, you deserve to be in prison. In Australia, there are so-called “special schools” in which students with differences from the expected norm that make it difficult for them to get along are basically segregated. I say it is time to reverse this. We need special schools that, in cases like this beating, the bullies are separated into and chucked amongst other bullies. Partly because such bullies need to be sent a clear message that such behaviour is not acceptable. But also because the best way to do that is to demonstrate to them in clear terms that no matter how big, tough, smart, or dextrous you get, there is always someone bigger, tougher, smarter, or more dextrous. And a place into which bullies are routinely packed away is one place where one has a good opportunity to find this out the hard way.
No matter what you think, the simple fact is that bullying is not simply “kids being kids”. Similar behaviours are not tolerated in the adult world. And if childhood is not about learning how to live the rest of your life, then what the fukk good is it?
I can only imagine how I came across to Mr. Spencer when I was a child. But this entry is dedicated to him. If you care about living in a world where people are treated with the respect a Human being automatically deserves, you will repeat his words to your children at least once. Bullying is a weakness; a sickness of the mind.
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