There is a huge conflict between how my parents taught me to behave and how I teach my children.
My parents taught me that violence is never acceptable. Not rarely, or only with extenuating circumstances, but never. What they didn’t teach me was what to do instead.
What do you do, as a child, when somebody pushes and shoves you, falls over and claims you tripped them, accuses you of queue jumping, tells you you’re stupid or that you smell? How do you deal with this behaviour?
Pushing back, shouting, swearing was not allowed. “Walk away”, “leave them alone” were the only pearls of wisdom I heard. And they sucked. They still do.
In that daily bus queue, I would be accused of jumping in, of not waiting my turn. If I didn’t let them in front then they would stand there saying what an unfortunate child I was, how I had no-one to talk to, no friends, no-one to play with and wasn’t it funny. Most of the time I stood my ground. I had done nothing wrong. It wasn’t my fault; why should I move? Why were they so horrible? But I trembled as I stood my ground. What was going to be said next, what else would they torture me with, what could I possibly do or say to make it stop?
“They’re not very nice children”. No they’re not. But they had friends. They laughed, chatted, ran round the playground playing silly games. They looked relaxed and happy.
So my life felt pretty abysmal. They were happy. I was the good one; they were the baddies. How is that fair? Where and when did they get their come-uppance?
Quite possibly never is the answer. But I felt isolated with no-one at school to support me or speak out for me, not the children, not the teachers. And certainly not my parents. They (one or both, I do not know) did go in to discuss it once or twice, which resulted in my moving up a year which provided yet more ammunition to that group of children.
I had no emotional support in dealing with bullying. No-one said “I can see you’re upset. How can we make it better.” Violence is emotional, whether it’s verbal or physical abuse. (Just as rape is by definition violent, a current debate).
My parents don’t “do” emotions. They couldn’t tell me to thump back. Fighting is something that animals do, uncivilised creatures. We are intelligent and rational. We know that violence serves no purpose, that grievances are best resolved by sitting round a table and discussing the issues. We can feel superior to these lesser mortals who are so weak that they end up resorting to force. We have the higher moral ground.
Only the higher moral ground is a very lonely place to be.
As I proved last night when someone harangued me, I don’t tell them they’re being a bully, that they’re brow-beating or pressurising me. I don’t tell them they’re rude. I don’t walk away from the conversation (that would be rude too). Nor do I say “I’ve had enough of this conversation; let’s change the subject”. Nor do I simply say “I’m not going to do what you ask so let’s leave it there.” Oh no. I was pleased with myself that I didn’t feel close to tears, didn’t give him what he wanted, didn’t shout and stood my ground. Just as my parents would have wanted. But I didn’t tell him he was a bombastic bully and that I never wanted to talk to him again. Ever.
I have a lot to unlearn: that I have a right to be upset, to be angry with someone. And I have a right to tell them what I think of them. And I don’t have to phrase it diplomatically.
But I’m not there yet. Whilst writing this post, the guy from last night has emailed to discuss conversation. I don’t know what/whether I will write back. But I do know that if I do, it won’t be to say “sod off”.