"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bullies, gravity, and the need to fight

My horse trainer, Niki, had a question for me and our friend Christine today. She had read in a parenting magazine that little boys going into kindergarten needed to be taught how to use a urinal so they don't drop their pants in the restrooms that are shared by the older boys (BTW, nothing in this article pointed to inappropriate/abusive behavior). Since Christine and I have both raised sons, she wanted to know if this was important.

Neither Christine nor I had imparted this info to our boys, although I told Niki that if anyone needs to teach her son, it sounded like a dad thing to me. Seriously, I've never used a urinal - what would I know?

Of course, after telling her that, I messaged my son. "So when you were a little kid, was it hard to learn to use the restrooms at Morse (elementary school)?"

I'm sure I baffled him. "Not that I can recall," he said.

He then went on to explain that the only semi-difficult part was to figure out that you didn't need to drop your pants, which was kind of embarrassing, but you see the other kids and you figure it out.

"They might laugh at you but you pick up on it."

Ah. That's what some parent in the parenting magazine is trying to prevent. Someone's son was laughed at and he was possibly a sensitive soul (oh-so-not judging) and he was upset. Laughing at someone's inexperience is not a kind thing to do, but it is a kid thing to do, and combined with other events, could definitely point toward bullying.

And we can't let our kids be bullied.

Let's be clear: I don't like bullies. I don't like people picking on other people, no matter what the age. And I think bullying can very much depend upon the recipient sometimes. A tender heart is bruised more easily.

With all that being said, when I think of bullies (or poverty or violence or any other kind of worldly pain), I think of astronauts. One of the things they discovered being in space for long periods is that their muscles atrophied because there was no gravity for them to push against. We take gravity for granted, but without it, our entire physical structure would break down. We need to be pushed by gravitational force so we can simply stand up.

So even though I want a world of peace, love, and understanding, when I see pain or injustice, it activates my "moral gravity." I have something to push against, to strengthen my resolve to make the world better. I don't like bullies, but knowing they exist makes me vigilant. A perfect world might make me a moral slacker, willing to let evil creep in because I might be too weak morally to fight it.

To take this into writer's territory, I think this is what gives our stories their life. If our characters are not pushing against some wrong, what makes a reader turn the page?

It's a Catch-22 world. We want to stop the madness, and our drive to stop it is what grounds us morally.


Simon Mayeski said...

I hear what you're saying Gayle, and it mostly makes sense. Except for the "A perfect world might make me a moral slacker, willing to let evil creep in because I might be too weak morally to fight it" part. Would there really be any 'evil' whatsoever in a 'perfect world'? Probably not something to worry much about, as if, but still...

Gayle Carline said...

True, Simon, in a perfect world, there shouldn't be any evil. Perhaps I can't imagine evil not sliding in from somewhere - look what happened in the Garden of Eden. (LOL)

Simon Mayeski said...

Excellent point, Gayle - that whole 'perfect world' thing has a tendency to disintegrate in a New York minute. And if we humans did not screw it up, there's always space aliens, time-travelers and...cowgirls.

Greta Boris said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Gayle. I used to be a personal trainer and life coach. If people didn't pick up heavy things, or run longer than felt good, or say no to the Twinkies they never got where they wanted to go. The really hard places in my life are the places I've grown the most. Preach it sister.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.