Death by Indifference -- Not Seeing the Problem Is the
by Charles Carreon
January 5, 2014
You have to find your place in this world, or you won’t
know where to stand. Some people never get a chance to find
their place in the world, because no one will let them stand
on their own square. Every time they try to stand
someplace, to assume a posture, to strike a pose, they get
knocked down. Eventually they go away and get rid of
themselves, so they don’t have to try and find a place to
stand among people who clearly don’t want to share the
spaces available in our tiny little world.
We have suicide figures. That’s what we call them, the
numbers of people dead from the cold in the midst of this
bleak, bleak winter of our rabid discontent. The
hand-wringing begins abruptly after “the community suffers
its loss,” and civil leaders rush to apply nostrums to the
fevered heads of parents who wonder, “Is it contagion?” and
“How could it happen here?” Left aside in the rush to find
cures are the victims of the trend — the dead people who
checked out rather than suffer one more social rejection.
When the nature of the problem, and its obvious solution,
are as plain as the nose on our collective social face,
efforts at “understanding the problem” are the problem
itself. When the people charged with doing something about
bullying turn to the victims of bullying and ask them for
the solutions to their problem, we know we are six feet deep
in official denial.
And this is what “Bully,” the superb documentary by Lee
Hirsch, cuttingly reveals –
that schools are hives where abusers breed and thrive, where
flaccid administrators offer excuses for bullies, and accuse
victims of incivility when they are unwilling to engage in
phony “make-up” sessions. Where those same administrators
gush about their grandkids while feeding pablum to parents
who demand to understand why the hell their kid can’t ride
the bus to school without being hazed like a Marine recruit
in the first week of boot camp.
Bully is a well-paced interweaving of several stories. One
narrative probes the aftermath of young Tyler Long’s
suicide, after years of bearing a brutal campaign of abuse
from his schoolmates, and features wrenching interviews with
his father David, who is clearly inconsolable and just as
clearly committed to protecting other children from the
horror of induced self-hate. Another story explores the
challenges faced by Kelby Johnson, a young lesbian whose
stellar athletic abilities buy her no immunity from
criticism, and are cast aside in the rush to ostracize
her. A third story features the trials of Alex Libby, whose
premature birth marked him with ungainly facial features,
bearing up under the daily rain of abuse. Another
story reports on the efforts of Kirk Smalley to draw benefit
for others from the suicide of his son Ty, by creating a
foundation, Stand for the Silent, to rally support against
bullying. The most jarring story depicts the avalanche of
consequences that befall JaMeya Jackson, aged 14, after she
packs her mother’s gun along on the bus ride to school,
hoping to protect herself from further bullying.
One problem with watching Bully is dealing with the emotions
it arouses. It’s impossible to watch it without wanting to
go out and exact some vengeance. While studying the
screencap gallery prepared by Tara of the sequence where the
young boy whose only faults are a pair of oversize lips and
a gawky walk is riding the schoolbus, while being pelted by
a hail of blows, I became internally apoplectic with rage.
Seeing the face of a child of eleven or twelve, shining with
malicious glee at the discomfort they are causing, along
with their vicious mates, provokes searing responses within
When I was a child, for a while I was three years ahead of
all of the other students in my class, since I’d transferred
from a school that had higher educational standards for
children of my age than the Catholic elementary school to
which I’d transferred. I remember being put back one grade,
so that the other kids in the class were only two years
older than myself. The reason given by the Franciscan nuns
was that “I was fighting with everyone.” I don’t actually
remember any of these fights. I believe that, faced with so
many people so much bigger than I, I threw myself into
battles with that gleeful innocence that is warranted when
the largest person you’ve ever traded punches with is ten
But having vanquished bullies once does not imply they are
vanquished forever. We have endless opportunities in our
wanderings through this bizarre existence to encounter
bullies. Whenever there is contested turf, and there is
always contested turf, the bullies will be set up, waiting.
What I generally like to do is come up with some type of
stunt to knock ‘em off balance and get the upper hand early
in the game. And that’s the type of movie I’d like to make
about bullying. One that gave bullying victims strategies
for outwitting their tormentors.
Don Juan Matus told his disciple Carlos how he had
vanquished a bully in a dire, life and death conflict that
left Don Juan’s tormentor actually deceased. Don Juan’s
story is worth repeating here because it satisfies, in a
wholesome fashion, that reasonable thirst for vengeance that
was left in my mouth by watching Bully. Enjoy.
Don Juan said that the other two attributes of warriorship,
forbearance and timing, which he did not yet have, had been
automatically included in his benefactor’s strategy.
Forbearance is to wait patiently — no rush, no anxiety — a
simple, joyful holding back of what is due.
“I groveled daily,” don Juan continued, “sometimes crying
under the man’s whip. And yet I was happy. My benefactor’s
strategy was what made me go from day to day without hating
the man’s guts. I was a warrior. I knew that I was waiting
and I knew what I was waiting for. Right there is the great
joy of warriorship.”
He added that his benefactor’s strategy called for a
systematic harassment of the man by taking cover with a
higher order, just as the seers of the new cycle had done
during the Conquest by shielding themselves with the
Catholic church. A lowly priest was sometimes more powerful
than a nobleman.
Don Juan’s shield was the lady who got him the job. He
kneeled in front of her and called her a saint every time he
saw her. He begged her to give him the medallion of her
patron saint so he could pray to him for her health and
“She gave me one,” don Juan went on, “and that rattled the
foreman to pieces. And when I got the servants to pray at
night he nearly had a heart attack. I think he decided then
to kill me. He couldn’t afford to let me go on.
“As a countermeasure I organized a rosary among all the
servants of the house. The lady thought I had the makings of
a most pious man.
“I didn’t sleep soundly after that, nor did I sleep in my
bed. I climbed to the roof every night. From there I saw the
man twice looking for me in the middle of the night with
murder in his eyes.
“Daily he shoved me into the stallions’ stalls hoping that I
would be crushed to death, but I had a plank of heavy boards
that I braced against one of the corners and protected
myself behind it. The man never knew because he was
nauseated by the horses — another of his weaknesses, the
deadliest of all, as things turned out.”
Don Juan said that timing is the quality that governs the
release of all that is held back. Control, discipline, and
forbearance are like a dam behind which everything is
pooled. Timing is the gate in the dam.
The man knew only violence, with which he terrorized. If his
violence was neutralized he was rendered nearly helpless.
Don Juan knew that the man would not dare to kill him in
view of the house, so one day, in the presence of the other
workers but in sight of his lady as well, don Juan insulted
the man. He called him a coward, who was mortally afraid of
the boss’s wife.
His benefactor’s strategy had called for being on the alert
for a moment like that and using it to turn the tables on
the petty tyrant. Unexpected things always happen that way.
The lowest of the slaves suddenly makes fun of the tyrant,
taunts him, makes him feel ridiculous in front of
significant witnesses, and then rushes away without giving
the tyrant time to retaliate.
“A moment later, the man went crazy with rage, but I was
already solicitously kneeling in front of the lady,” he
Don Juan said that when the lady went inside the house, the
man and his friends called him to the back, allegedly to do
some work. The man was very pale, white with anger. From the
sound of his voice don Juan knew what the man was really
planning to do. Don Juan pretended to acquiesce, but instead
of heading for the back, he ran for the stables. He trusted
that the horses would make such a racket the owners would
come out to see what was wrong. He knew that the man would
not dare shoot him. That would have been too noisy and the
man’s fear of endangering his job was too overpowering. Don
Juan also knew that the man would not go where the horses
were — that is, unless he had been pushed beyond his
“I jumped inside the stall of the wildest stallion,” don
Juan said, “and the petty tyrant, blinded by rage, took out
his knife and jumped in after me. I went instantly behind my
planks. The horse kicked him once and it was all over.
“I had spent six months in that house and in that period of
time I had exercised the four attributes of warriorship.
Thanks to them, I had succeeded. Not once had I felt sorry
for myself or wept in impotence. I had been joyful and
serene. My control and discipline were as keen as they’d
ever been, and I had had a firsthand view of what
forbearance and timing did for impeccable warriors. And I
had not once wished the man to die.
“My benefactor explained something very interesting.
Forbearance means holding back with the spirit something
that the warrior knows is rightfully due. It doesn’t mean
that a warrior goes around plotting to do anybody mischief,
or planning to settle past scores. Forbearance is something
independent. As long as the warrior has control, discipline,
and timing, forbearance assures giving whatever is due to
whoever deserves it.”
“Do petty tyrants sometimes win, and destroy the warrior
facing them?” I asked.
“Of course. There was a time when warriors died like flies
at the beginning of the Conquest. Their ranks were
decimated. The petty tyrants could put anyone to death,
simply acting on a whim. Under that kind of pressure seers
reached sublime states.”
Fire From Within, by Carlos Castaneda