Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

17 May 2012

Bad Relations

Fr. Robert Barron recently wrote on a timely subject: How to Solve the Bully Problem.

He wrote specifically with respect to boys, although perhaps a similar approach might apply to girls--namely, to link girls with solid female mentors, and to do so promptly.  In either case, where to find them?

Relational aggression is nothing new (I can tell you that it was alive and well in the mid 1980s), but recent attention to suicides has spurred responses like the film "Bully."  Certainly we want, as a culture, to teach and model respect among our youth.  While we suspect that relational aggression, as old as Cain and Abel, may never just "go away," the 2000s and 2010s have clamored for its demise with equal and opposite aggression.  No sane person would want to impede aggrieved parents in their quest for justice.  Maybe their son or daughter wasn't spared from hurt people who hurt people, but perhaps through their pleading and legal action (more likely the latter), somebody can be spared.

How does one go about this activity of raising awareness, when the mere restatement of the Golden Rule seems insufficient, even if it's done against the background of a Top-40 hit or with the endorsement of a formerly bullied celebrity?  "I made it, and [if you happen to become famous in theater, music, sports, or whatever] you can, too [if you can refrain from killing yourself or your aggressor, going insane, or having your personality eroded by workplace aggressors in adulthood]!"

When it (bullying) happened to me in 4th through 6th grade, I hesitated to retaliate for fear of "the last state of the man being worse than the first"--getting my butt kicked.  Once--once--I punched a bully in the arm and he just stood there and looked at me as if to say, "Was that the best you could do?".  Believe it or not, the instant payback was not terribly bad, but I toughened it out until I'd had enough…then I transferred to Catholic school (from late grade school through seminary).  That didn't solve all the problems.  Over the years I discovered many unsatisfactory places of refuge from the pain of bullying and other stressors, real and imagined.  Learning to become a man in the Braveheart sense might have staved off a lot of pain; but things worked out as only a provident God can arrange them, to the effect that I can share some of my story in this venue.

With all due respect to the professionals in the anti-bullying enterprise--especially the victims among them--I'm not sure what sort of money-requiring, official programs will "solve" the problem.  Something more systemic, more cycle-breaking, seems appropriate.  As Fr. Barron suggests, let's find us some good role models--men and women, from among the huge pool of reformed aggressors and recovering recipients.  Let's become them.

Schooling in virtue from day one (virtue: from virtus, which has roots in vir [man, more to the point of power/strength]) is crucial.  A virtue is a good habit of choosing (action, word, thought--all choices, are they not?), acquired through repetition.  By "day one" I mean Day One.  When we recognize that everyone involved has choices--parents, children, educators, all formative influences--it changes the mode of action and the mode of response.

Even if aggression happens (and it will), the aggressor doesn't have to become the Enemy.  That doesn't seem to help.  Early detection can invite constructive guidance for both parties with only the necessary amount of embarrassment (not easily measurable in the moment).

Start the conversation on Virtue in home, school--wherever children are formed.  But for the sake of all that is good and true, be informed!  Read good books on the subject.  Works of contemporary Catholic authors such as Donald DeMarco (look here for an article of his) are a great start.  Consult a good examination of conscience for a review of good vs. bad choices.  Most of all, practice virtue: make good choices as consistently as possible, correct bad choices as promptly as possible.

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