When Jay shot himself in the late 80’s, he gave his best friend Theo his favorite gun to ‘hold’ for the weekend. Then, Jay called the cops on Theo. Theo had enough of a record that the cops threw Theo in lockup for the weekend. He played cards with drunks. He won a carton of cigarettes. He got out, and found out that Jay had shot up his bedroom, and blown his own head off, with a shotgun.
Jay was at the other high school in my town. A lot of people I went to school with skipped class to go to his funeral. I thought they were all assholes. When I was in junior high, Jay sat behind me in a few classes. Alphabetical seating. The same kids who cut class to go to his funeral bullied him, relentlessly, day in, day out. Most days he would fold himself over his books, his head down. He could answer without looking at the teacher, so that part didn’t matter.
I was nice to him. The bullies weren’t picking on me. I knew what it felt like, to be the target. They trip you, books fly everywhere. Catcalls, names. The relentlessness of it was awful. I was twitchy and jumpy, one big startle response of hyper awareness. I made a great target. Bullies got what they wanted, The Reaction, immediately.
A crushing sense of helplessness combined with deep pain and a sense of no escape, I think, provokes suicide. A sense of it never ending. I’m an artist now. Oddly, artists whose work I’ve loved, and studied most closely killed themselves ~ Arshile Gorky, Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Sylvia Plath. I’ve paid attention to suicide as a health risk of my profession.
Trauma can create that inner scenario of crushed and powerless. One’s will erased by the behavior of the other. Bullies, the uncontrollable other, make the world full of taunting, ridicule, punching, and random assaults that explode out of peripheral vision. Being prey to this creates powerlessness, sleepless nights, proto-PTSD. Feeling helpless to change anything in the world, one is forced to return to the arena where one faces the bullies every day, school or home. Nothing matters, no matter what you do, they’ll still assault you.
That feeling of weakness? That’s what the bully is trying to create. That’s what they need. The target learns not to show it.
The target’s goal? To be passed over by the bully for someone else, a newbie who more easily cries uncle, gives satisfaction.
Both witnesses to bullying and survivors of it know that expressing the emotional effects of having been bullied makes one more of a target. This truth becomes problematic when the target’s endurance capacity overloads. In order to process the difficult emotions created by the experience of being bullied, one needs to show those emotions to someone else.
People have an awfully hard time aligning with, and supporting, those who speak from a place of deep helplessness. American public culture avoids personal expression of difficulty like the plague. Perhaps we have seen too much bullying. Perhaps we don’t know how to talk about it. Perhaps we’re all exhausted by witnessing.
The witness who says, “I’m just glad it wasn’t me.” The relentless violence in our news and our entertainment. Winner-take-all mentality. Machismo, threaded through with the undertones of rape ~ “only a pussy takes a pounding”.
We need persistence in the face of social and political difficulty. We need to learn how to listen to each other. Perhaps we can use the phrase ‘endurance capacity’ as a safe-word. Use the phrase as an opening for conversation about witnessing, or having been a target, or having become a bully to avoid being bullied.
To symbolize, “I’ve had enough ~ I need to let go of some of the pain, fear, powerlessness I’m holding ~ nobody taught me how to deal with this part of the journey I’m on, I need to put this down, its overwhelming.” To make it OK to say that, without ridicule by some struggling witness who has invested so much in not being bullied (or not showing their own hurt) that they get pissed off that another person admits they hurt,and get emotional support. Yeah, it is this enmeshed and messy of a public process, changing the culture.
How skilled are we at discussing our weakest places? How skilled are we at providing the kind of emotional presence that renews our endurance capacity for our day to day life, in the face of difficulty? When was the last time you cried on a friend, and they just accepted that, because their act of witnessing you cry was exactly what you needed? How easy is it to share our darkness with each other, our helplessness, in true vulnerability, without fear that our friends are secretly competitors? How strong can our friendships become?
A year or two after Jay’s exit, I dated Theo for a little while. He talked about his own frustration and rage at how Jay tricked him, made him powerless to stop Jay. I remembered this when I read codinghorror’s “Don’t let them see you ragequit!” post, an expression of frustration and grief at Aaron Swartz’s suicide. Tucked into his post was his own expression of a need to refresh his endurance capacity. He wrote his own struggle, from a gamer’s perspective, and provided Not Giving Up strategies of encouragement.
I think we each chose particular strategies when we were kids. That’s when we were first exposed to bullying, at school or at home. Who am I to criticize another’s approach, except in the context of my own? This is how being human works.
I only know the “gamer’s perspective” from seeing it from the outside. Perhaps the gamer approach means depersonalizing other human being’s shitty behavior through self-mastery and competition. I respect the work and the character one can develop with that approach; its just not my approach.
I survived being a target. In the gamer-world, being a persistent target makes you a loser. Instead, I survived being bullied by understanding that the bullies were doing what they needed to to meet their own needs. My odd resignation and simple dignity provided me an opt-out that was ‘unbeatable’. It wasn’t a game. It was simple insight into human nature.
For me, the gamer approach pits me against the world, and makes every other person a player. That doesn’t work for me as a long-term strategy. Especially if others have been bullies, or awful. It’s another form of competition. It also means I carry the other shitty person/people with me, in my head, as a goad. I’m not interested in internalizing the bully process. If that works for you, use it. Each of us has our own illusion to use in this world.
As a maker, I use a different set of tools.
Suicide makes us all feel powerless. I wish people would figure out that batterers and bullies act that way because they need to; it has nothing to do with who the target is. The fact that our culture rewards them? That’s a bigger thing for us to figure out how to mitigate. Meanwhile, can we make it OK to express the messy emotions that we had to hide to survive bully culture? Can we learn how to simply keep those emotions private, instead of totally repressing them?
Lets make a counter-culture to bully culture. Nourish private relationships. Support our endurance capacity. Be able to be present for someone else’s difficulty when it is offered. Practice ~ be present for your own darkness, with respect and dignity. Endure as we learn new skills, and create something else for each other.
Hacktivists Anonymous have been doing something very, very interesting lately. They’ve exposed Steubenville, OH’s culture of corruption, how local community leaders have protected members of the local football team who drugged a young woman, dragged her from party to party and repeatedly raped her. [ read about it here: http://localleaks.blogs.ru/ ]
The crime(s) happened last summer. Anonymous’s internet revelation of Steubenville’s protection of the rapists & culture of local corruption started to be posted around Christmastime.
While I am glad that this criminal behavior is coming to light, there is a troubling reality here. We are directly confronted with documentation of the rapists’ behavior. In the Anon-released “rapists gloating” video, the young men repeatedly say “she’s dead”, in reference to how they drugged her and took control of her body. One of her assailants also refers to her as “it”.
Rapists reveling in being rapists. We need to see this reality. How prepared are we to see this reality?
Personally, I am unsurprised by their behavior. We live in a rape culture, one that, for better or worse, I’m unable to blind myself to. Anonymous has exposed the Steubenville community as being an exemplar of rape culture.
[[ a starting point for that definition : “… Rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as “just the way things are.” ” : taken from ~> http://upsettingrapeculture.com/rapeculture.html ]]
Witnessing rape culture takes a toll.
I’ve listened to several women talk about their rape experiences, over the years. The first rape I witnessed-by-overhearing, I was in seventh grade. A twelve-year-old girl at school gave birth at home, to a baby gotten on her by her uncle. Her dad let the baby die, her parents “didn’t know what was going on” until her water broke.
I suppose its a privilege to be told the details. The only shame in rape is that men do it, and the culture turns the other cheek. The way I learned to bear strong witness to my sisters, and to not get in the boat of powerlessness with them, was to learn to honor and pray for their healing. To see them as whole women, as resilient independent women, as people who grow and heal.
You can always do something.
I’m interested in remaining soul-alive and well in this crazy world. I’m praying for this girl, well, it’s not prayer exactly ~ I’m chanting the Medicine Buddha Mantra for her. She’s my little sister, she’s all of our sister.
Its easy to get caught up in arguing about how exactly the boys who assaulted her should be punished. I’m not interested in creating more argument. I’m interested in working to create a culture that honors women’s ability to heal and move forward, that honors women as beings, as creatures.
Not as that broken doll, not as ‘it’.
Ta-ya-ta : Om Bekandze Bekandze : Maha Bekandze : Radza Samudgate Soha
Introduction to The Medicine Buddha Mantra : http://www.worldwidehealingcircle.net/medicine_buddha_mantra.htm
“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.
I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.
In this video, Rushkoff discusses the American inability to be present. He uses the term ‘nowness’ to refer to being here now, participating in this moment.
The purchasing cycles needed by industry in order to earn demands that consumers cycle through a regular purchasing-and-disposal process. viz : fashion ~ dispose of things that don’t suit your taste, the way in which color palettes are introduced to the general public through particular consumer goods pipelines year over year (starts with housepaint and car colors, then interior decoration fabrics and furniture, then clothing and makeup) to stimulate consumption of the ‘new’.
That process is one of what is considered ‘perpetual beta’ in technology circles. “What I have released, as a product, is mostly good. There is room for growth, what is perfect is on the horizon.” We have been taught to accept this by computer software developers. We would never accept this with our cars. Would you drive a car whose brakes were in perpetual beta?
Always looking forward. The next thing. The thing I own disappointing as soon as I mark it, make it imperfect or mine. Immediate dissatisfaction with the amazing gadget as soon as it is in hand; the immediate imagining of the promise of the next device.
So easy to create this culture, this economy. Human nature attuned to discover lacks [ viz. Lacan and many others ]. The Buddha’s discussion of aversion as the base orientation of human nature. That running away, that mental need to be elsewhere at the root of our suffering.
When Society Becomes An Addict discusses the addictive behaviors our culture sustains itself with, economically. Shaef argues that we can become present, we can let go of behaviors founded on ideas of our own personal powerlessness, consumption-behaviors that create economic wealth for others. Her book is shelved in the “therapeutic / self-help” aisle, while Rushkoff is a “cultural theorist”. However, her approach to a culture of ‘not-present’ aligns with Rushkoff’s insight into this core issue he describes as being expressed by the Occupy movement.
America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.
Kurt Vonnegut : Slaughterhouse Five
No government policy created public attitudes that linked personal worthiness of love to personal finance.
More children in this country have access to TV than food. What does that behaviorally tell them about their worth? What content screens on that TV? Images and messages program people to believe they are valued socially for what they are able to consume.
The government does not create or substantiate these values, we do.
We live in a culture obsessed with power by implication - by wallet size and social status attained by the manipulation of appearances. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixen, Obama didn’t make that.
Be aware if you find yourself withdrawing in disgust or judging someone who is from a very different economic place than you … or, paradoxically, when confronted with a person who has confused owning the symbols of prosperity (the right gadgets, brands, or accessories) with actual wealth. If any of those things break, how fragile that wealth is revealed to be.
What beliefs divide us?
America was founded on the violent death of the people who lived here. The real process of nation-building? Thousands of pairs of bloody hands, and smallpox blankets, and gravediggers.
Make room for the next thing.
This behavior was not unique. Perhaps learned. Our parent country, Great Britain, was violently assembled of discrete uniquely-cultured states.
The stone strikes the surface of the pond. Ripples move outwards. Another stone strikes. Ripples move outwards, interacting with other ripples, interacting with other ripples. [ see : work (noun) ]
The illusion that our government serves us breaks. Government agencies perpetuate violence against its own citizenry, a means which denies the stated beliefs which once justified the creation of this government.
Uncle Sam cuts off his own feet.
The destruction of a perpetuated illusion makes room for some new illusion.
The consumer and her power. Her power to purchase.
I saw a banner in a jewelry store display today - buy this charm necklace and twenty dollars of your purchase goes to support the eradication of breast cancer.
Your power is in the money in your wallet. Your power only lives where you choose to spend, how you choose to fund other people’s powerful actions.
Your power is in the paper you carry around in your hand, in the credit cards in your purse.
I don’t believe you.
I have read that Americans spend, on average, thirty hours a week watching a screen that panders to the viewer’s attention. The little people on the screen do anything to retain our attention. We are so powerful. If we don’t like something, we can turn it off.
What we pay attention to, grows.
This principle is also true in our psychology, in our lives. If we pay attention to our worry, it grows. If we give audience to our fear, it becomes terror. If we pay attention to what we don’t have, we believe in our own poverty regardless of our material circumstance.
In public culture, the culture of mass audience, this principle has been dirtied up by false importance fed the audience. The act of watching television does two things: 1. one spends time with a screen, engaging the imagination with content prepared for one by others. 2. one doesn’t actually do anything.
Attention lives inside of ourselves. Attention is ours to point at the world.
Does attention live inside of your purse? Does attention live inside of your wallet?