Thursday, June 03, 2004

I've been thinking about pacifism and violence lately. Father Jake has had some great posts on the subject. I'm too lazy right now to link to them all, but they are definitely worth reading. I've also been enjoying The Gutless Pacifist the last couple of days.

Then yesterday out I was out walking during a break at work. A school bus drove by and some elementary school kid yelled out the window at me. He was making fun of me about my weight. I was shocked at how this 10 or 11 year-old punk could make me feel so bad about myself. It brought back a lot of feelings about my own elementary school experience. I was frequently the target of bullies and it wasn't uncommon for me to come home crying. I don't feel like I was scarred permanently by my experience, but it has shaped me.

Then I started thinking about a particular experience in fifth grade. One guy in my class was making my life miserable. His name was Ray. I feel no particular need to disguise his name because he was a total asshole. Eventually my dad and my teacher got sick of me complaining about him. My dad told me that I should just take him down on the playground and tell him to stop messing with me. He even showed how to do it. What shocked me was that my teacher agreed. So one day, near the end of recess, I did. Out of sight of the playground monitors I knocked him down and pinned him on his back. I told him to leave me alone. Then I got up and went inside.

You know what, he did leave me alone. And you know what else? It felt good. Really good. I felt like I had a little more control over my life. And I've never hit anyone intentionally again (there's an unfortunate story from seventh grade about an unintentional blow, but I'll leave that for later). But I've struggled to understand what to take away from that experience. Now I wonder what I'd tell my children if they were in the same situation. Of course today, if they did what I'd done they'd probably end up in a maximum security prison for the the rest of their life.

Is the message here "better living through judicious use of violence?" Is it that you should stand up for yourself when the peope who are supposed to protect you, don't? Did I just lower myself to the bully's level and debase myself by speaking his language?

I think that maybe the message is that our society is seriously screwed up. Even in this day of metal detectors and drug dogs at schools, kids aren't safe there. Kids aren't safe at home. They aren't safe on the streets. We've created a world where power is the only thing that matters. We see this modeled from the President on down. Is it any big surprise then that some kids work the same way? Should we be shocked that the one concept kids seemingly master in school is how to use physical and emotional violence to their advantage?

I know a lot of people on the right hate Michael Moore with a passion. Maybe they're right. But I thought Bowling for Columbine was a great movie. What I really liked was how he pointed out that the day of the Columbine shooting was also the day of the single largest bombing offensive in the Bosnian "conflict." We live in an incredibly violent society - from state-sponsored violence to domestic violence. Is it any surprise that our kids act the same way? I think it would be more surprising if they didn't.



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