Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I've Learned About the "High Road"

"...whoever established the high road and how high it should be should be fired."~Sandra Bullock
The Fallacy

Taking the High Road doesn't protect you from people
who are willing to climb out of the trenches to attack.
I'm going to start of my anti-bully spiel the same way I always do:

I am not a woman who generally advocates violence.

That said, I think there is a great fallacy that all bullying problems can be solved in a non-violent manner.  This fallacy can be summed up in one statement that pops up whenever a victim is trying to figure out how to deal with a bully: "Hang in there.  Don't stoop to his level.  Take the high road."

I ponder this "high road" because I doubt that it ever crosses paths with the ghetto perspective in which bullies emerge.  However, people should not falsely believe that they are safe from their bullies because they are on a road that does not stoop to their territory.  If there is one thing I have learned about those with true "ghetto" mentalities it's that they're not beyond climbing out of the trenches to commit highway robbery--or worse.

The Quiet Warrior

An African proverb says to "speak soft and carry a big stick."  But at what moment do you use this stick?  Therein lies the true wisdom.  Perhaps it has to do with the trajectory of your "high road".  Yes, I just said trajectory.  I mean think about it.  A road must at some point touch the ground.  Even if your road is attached to two mountains, you can't get yourself (or a car) to the higher road unless you go up the mountain (i.e. you started on the ground).  Somewhere your "high road" isn't so high.

Yoda looked peaceful and non-violent, but
even he had his limitations as seen in
his fight with Count Dooku.
Think I'm crazy?  Let me use a pop culture reference for illustration.  In the Star Wars universe (talking movies here) who is the wisest, most docile, soft spoken character? Yoda. He's small and in the last three movies, which are really the first movies most people saw, he carries a stick.  Until the prequels, we never saw him fight or give more than stern lectures to young Skywalker.  Then the prequels came out and we see this whole other side of Yoda.  Not right away.  When we first see him in "The Phantom Menace," he is still meditating, sitting among the Jedi Council doling out wisdom in his reverse sentence structure.  Then the bullies start to shove.  And they shove more in "Attack of the Clones." And then BAM! This hobbling little green guru whips out a lightsaber and tries to take Dooku's head off.  When he's really done with Dooku's shit he tries to fire lightening up his ass.  And you know why?  Because Yoda's "high road" has hit ground level.  Yoda has realized that Dooku is beyond reason and will never stop trying to harm him or his allies.

Okay take a breath.  There is no need to go to the extremes of fictional Jedi warriors. And the point of the above example is this: Yoda knew when to use his 'big stick' to defend himself.  Yes, yes.  Laugh now and  get your mind out of the gutter.  And then think about this?  Are you willing to allow yourself to believe that everybody, including your bully, is able to be reached by reason? Will you feel this way when push comes to shove and your life is in danger?  I can tell you that I used to believe that.  I would take their verbal, emotional, and physical abuse year after year because I wanted to stay on this "high road."  I wanted my bully to see that I was better than them, but what I really did was give them another reason to hate me.  And don't fool yourself into thinking others will sympathize with your plight against your bully.  In general people, for whatever insane reason, believe that the victim somehow "deserves" the abuse their taking-- you must have done something, or said something.  Yeah, I stayed on the "high road."  My bullies didn't like my blatant display of their shortcomings.

I'm not gonna lie.  The lowest point in my anti-bully plight came when I was 11 and my mom was pulling me off my cousin who had been tormenting me for weeks.  Aside from snide comments and calling me names she had bit me and hit me in the head with a tire swing.  I'd had it and I was going to make it clear in language she understood.  There was punching and heads being shoved into the sandbox.  There were snide comments from my nearby family members about who was going to "win."  By the end, my cousin clearly understood I was not going to take her shit.  Ironically, a year later her twin sister would stand by my side when another bully was tormenting me.

The Violent High Road

Bullying isn't just for kids. Adults
bully too.
Only once have I stopped a bully by walking away and to this day I can't tell you why.  All other times have required some kind of physical altercation, from taking out the sixth grader shaking me down for lunch money with a metal lunchbox to stopping the diva rants of a ballet dancer by smacking them on the head.  However, my son Ivan found a way to look like he took the "high road" while using violence to make his point:

My son was being tormented by a neighborhood bully.  I told him to kick this kid's ass, but he was trying to be the "better person" and "take the high road". One day my husband tells me that Ivan "sort of" got in a fight with this bully. I am like "what the hell does 'sort of' mean?" Then he tells me that Ivan went up to the kid an said, "I'm done. We are settling this." Then Ivan tells the kid to hit him. At first the kid is like WTF, but Ivan tells him again to hit him, so he does. Ivan goes to the ground then gets back up and tells him to hit him again. The kid does. Ivan goes down again then gets back up.

This goes on for six or eight times and now all the neighborhood kids have all gathered to watch this end. After the sixth or eighth time Ivan gets up and tells the kid, "Really? That's all you've got? I done man." Then he leaves. Not a single punch thrown by him. The bully never bothers him again.

The Answer 
Simply that you need to pull your self out of the illusion that ignoring the problem will go away.  This illusion may feel like hope, but it's really the shackles of despair.  If there is anything I've learned about 'hope' and bullies its "hope never stopped war" (from Neal Stephenson's Anathem) and "Hope is the first step in the road to disappointment." (Warhammer 40K).  Hope does have it's place.  This isn't it.

Fighting isn't always the answer either, but making it clear that you will fight can sometimes do the trick.  It worked for the Switzerland.  During World War II, a German ambassador joked about invading Switzerland.  He asked the Swiss ambassador, "What would Switzerland do if they were invaded by Germany and were outnumbered 2 to 1?"  Calmly the Swiss ambassador answers, "Shoot twice and go home."

1 comment:

chriseshleman said...

In my mind the best way — certainly not the only way — to stand up to a threat is to show the antagonist you’re able to bully him or her right back.
I have a close family member who spent his life cowering to threats. How did he deal with it? He became a shrink. Don’t get me wrong — I both love him and appreciate therapy. Been there.
But I suspect that, in his case, he used his career as an out, an excuse to avoid dealing with his problems. He instead — and, again, god love him because it’s great work — works with very young victims and helps them through their problems.
I wonder how that route compares to, say, simply teaching kids to stand up for themselves from the get go.