I WAS going to write about something really sweet and positive this week, but something more important has come up. And it is, perhaps, one of the things I most dislike.
I had just walked in the door from a long day of work. It was late, kids were hungry and restless. I kicked off my heels, changed into Ugh boots and announced that we would head to the tavern for dinner. My plan for a quick exit to place with Sauvignon Blanc was foiled by a fight that erupted between sons #2 and #4.
It’s not worth making a ‘long story short’, because the story IS short. Ridiculously short. The older boy pinched a dollar from the little one, and decided to run around in circles, laughing maniacally at the frenzied state of his little brother as he chased him, trying to recover his pocket money. It’s not a complex plot. But it was enough to send my blood boiling, because of the nature of the offence: bullying.
I dealt with the matter quickly (and loudly) and then drove us down to the tavern. But I wasn’t done. As I pulled into the carpark I locked the doors and turned to my sons, announcing that they would not be unleashed onto tavern parmies until they had heard a story about something I witnessed when on a trip to China many years ago.
I had been walking along when I noticed a homeless child on the street, playing with what may have been his prized possessions: a pair of discarded medicine bottles which he was using as pretend superheroes. I watched him for a moment, when I suddenly witnessed two businessmen approach him, and saw one of the men kick the bottles from the little boy’s hands for amusement. It makes me sick even remembering. The little boy scrambled to collect his broken bottles as the men strolled off laughing.
The story brought silence to the car, and tears to a couple of their eyes. I voiced the obvious- these men were bullies. Horrible bullies. And yet, how can we look at their actions with disgust, if we treat each other in the same way?
Bullies come in many shapes and sizes, I told the boys. And each are as disgusting as each other. A bully can be the kid in the playground hating on your yellow shirt. Or the smug corporate mid-60s in a board-room, looking right past your 20 years of experience, at your cleavage. It could be the person who talks down to the Indian telemarketer because he/she somehow feels superior, instead of having some perspective around privilege. It could be anyone. From a family member who hides insults in their jokes, to an ethnocentric politician drunk on misappropriated power. ANYONE.
I eyeballed to the boys and I summed it up like this: a bully is anyone who tries to pull you down. They are the people who would choose to sit at a broken table pilled with criticism, instead of dining at a banquet of potential. They are the voices who would want you to question who you are; who would steal your joy or kick your little glass bottles.
The car was silent. One of the kids piped up and asked if I had confronted the men I had seen mistreat the young boy in China. Of course I had. And despite the language barrier, I am fairly certain the two men had no doubts about my disgust. Not that it would have made a difference to their future behaviour. But it hopefully made a difference to that young boy, to know that someone stood up for him.
I unlocked the car door with this final warning: so let it be known, each time you bully each other, you are no different to those men on the street…. So don’t look so shocked when I don’t let you get away with it either.