Friday, March 22, 2013

Bullying and bad manners

The difference between bad manners and bullying is only a matter of degree, when you think about it. Speaking on a cellphone during a meeting is bad manners, shouting on one (except in physical isolation) is bullying. Jumping a queue is bad manners; using force to do it is bullying.

Dog-owners who turn a deaf ear to their animals’ incessant barking are ill-mannered yokels; their failure to stop the nuisance crosses the line into bullying when the beasts wake the neighbourhood every morning. Bullying is leaving a person no peaceful option but to let the bully have his way.

I admit to something of an obsession with barking dogs and their irresponsible owners. Some people with Dog City values moved in across the fence from us a few months ago with two yappy yard-dogs. (“Dog City” is one of our Islands’ noisy slums.) Over the road is a dog that barks off and on all night, owned and uncontrolled by yet another bad neighbour. Actually, she is a wonderful neighbour in many ways. But she has a moral blind-spot when it comes to her bullying dogs. Sigh.

(A recent public petition here in Cayman called for a ban on the importation of Paraquat, which is a strong pesticide used by local farmers against weeds. It is the local householder’s weapon of choice against barking dogs. I wouldn’t use it, but I understand why others do. They (those others) should adapt the slogan of America’s pro-gun lobby. They could brandish placards proclaiming, Paraquat doesn’t kill dogs; sleepless neighbours kill dogs.)

Adult bullies have usually picked up the trait during their childhoods – from families, playmates, schools, and now Facebook. Sometimes their DNAs drive them towards psychopathic cruelty. For members of violent criminal gangs, bullying is a necessary means of survival – as is allowing themselves to be bullied, of course.

Legal gangs of one sort or another practise the art of bullying even in some of the more sophisticated of nations. Today’s police and soldiers (all too often dressed like stormtroopers, in their Star Wars regalia), other uniformed state employees, and of course priests... not all of them, of course, but plenty!

For a priest who has been trained to tell congregations who will and won’t go to hell and suffer eternal torment by the agents of God, it is a small step to tell children to take their pants off and submit to the will of God’s earthly agents. Why should we be surprised that it happens so often?

As we know from media reports from the world’s conflict-zones, whole tribes and nations can take on the aggressive behaviour we associate with criminal gangs. Military invasions and occupations are pretty much inevitable, by cultures that tolerate bullying and extreme bad manners in their communities.

Soldiers who, or whose units, commit atrocities naturally feel superior to any pussies who hold them accountable. Bullies feel contempt for their victims. Contempt dehumanises the victims. Thus, drone-pilots feel no compunction about wiping out villages full of civilians, any more than Air Force bombers and field-artillery gunners did in earlier invasions.

Ah well, war crimes are a far cry from shouting on cellphones in public, and barking dogs at midnight! However, the principle is the same. Bullies are bullies, regardless of circumstances. The meek might indeed inherit the earth, as the Christian Bible tells us; but short of Judgment Day it’s the bullies who hold all the title deeds.