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Death by Indifference -- Not Seeing the Problem Is the Problem

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 me.

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 years old!

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 well-being.

“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 continued.

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 endurance.

“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.”

 The Fire From Within, by Carlos Castaneda