It seems to me that in general one expects living authors to run out of words before breath – entirely unreasonable, I know, but there it is. Dibdin dIt seems to me that in general one expects living authors to run out of words before breath – entirely unreasonable, I know, but there it is. Dibdin died too early, making this an unexpected treat, an Aurelio Zen I thought I’d read but hadn’t, I realised leafing through it in a bookshop in Australia....
My niece goes on about her mother who is always interpreting herself as Maltese, though her father waThis book is about bullying. Coming from the gut.
My niece goes on about her mother who is always interpreting herself as Maltese, though her father wasn’t even born there and she has spent all of several days on the island. I totally agree with you, Martha. And yet despite that I’m perfectly capable of doing just the same. This book is about Calabria. I was raised in the dark shadow of the brutal nature of existence there. This even though my father was born here and I have most certainly not put one foot onto the soil of my ancestors. This even though my father disowned his family when I was about six years old, so except for tiny memories, I only know the fear of the fear, not the fear itself.
I think that is why of all the things in the world one might get upset about, bullying distresses me in the extreme. Bullying, manipulation, threats, rule by fear so that you don’t even have to wave this stick often, it is there anyway. Those around you will be grateful and think you are being nice whenever you aren’t exercising these things. They are willing to pretend that the niceness has no connection to the rest. You get your way. The people around you pretend that this was their choice and that they hadn’t been abused into giving you what you want.
When I was little I didn’t fight bullying, to my shame. At home I’d gather the little ones up and put them in a place I hoped was safe, but when it came right down to it, I didn’t fight. I guess little children don’t. They watch their father or mother yelling and screaming and doing something awful to their sibling and they do nothing.
I’m supposed to excuse that, I guess. It’s all right, you were just a child, you did your best. But I didn’t. I behaved like a coward when there were times as a child and then a teenager I should have stood up to the outrageous bullying I watched, glad it wasn’t me.
You become an adult. What then?
I’m particularly upset about this right now, this moment, because last night I received a message from somebody who said he was really looking forward to talking to me today, but in fact what happened between that message and this morning was something that so distressed him that he can’t talk. I can only guess at what happened last night, but I’ve now observed enough from a distance to see the entirely predictable pattern. He gets yelled and screamed at. It deeply distresses him. After he’s been yelled and screamed at enough – and please note ‘yelled and screamed’ does not necessarily mean literally, it often doesn’t have to be, it is a figure of speech for what happens – he gives in to whatever is being demanded of him. Often this is after his wife turns nice for a moment, in guilt and relief he gives in and then thinks he is in control and that it was his choice and that his wife is fine, it isn’t her fault she is like that, if he does the right thing she won’t be. Ie it is HIS fault. Now, this is a bright guy. If he were on goodreads he’d be writing about domestic violence in some sympathetic way where he thinks it is terrible what happens to girls. You’d all be voting for him. But he is a male. What is happening to him isn’t even physically violent, after all. Whatever she does in the way of threats and manipulation he says it isn’t her fault, she doesn’t mean it, she is fine as long as he does what she wants. Now, I don’t actually think he believes this stuff, but he is terrified of actually doing anything about it, so he plays the game. He isn’t terrified for his life, like a girl with a psychotic partner might be. He is terrified of all the threats she has ready to put into place. Divorce, financial deprivation, never seeing his kids, poisoning his friends. You can be as logical as you like about it. Point out that his son is grown up and won’t do what his wife says, point out that if his friends are really his friends they won’t be turned against him…it doesn’t matter. He isn’t having it. He has been so cowed by what is happening to him that he is no longer able to do anything other than believe what he wife feeds him.
We hope that this sort of bullying in our society is rare. But there are cultures in which it is entrenched, in which bullying is made into love so that at a personal level relationships depend upon there being a bullyer and a bullyee. Calabria is one of them. There are cultures in which social bullying of a more public kind is also entrenched. The consequences of this in 1930s Germany still haunt us. Calabria is a law unto itself, even now, and society is built upon the edifice of bullying.
Thinking about this, about the fact that at some point Calabrians let this happen, I ask:
Would you have kicked Jews to death in Nazi Germany? Most people very complacently say yes, they would have, they wouldn’t have been brave enough not to. Their comfortable logic is that what would have happened to them if they didn’t was so bad, that this forgives the nature of their crime.
You watch somebody being yelled at in a most abusive way at a knitting group by the leader of the group. The leader is being an unreasonable bully. Do you stick up for this visitor, say that the visitor has a point, she is actually right…and that even if she wasn’t, perhaps yelling abusively at her isn’t the right approach. Do you do this? Or do you knit furiously away, eyes down, pretending you aren’t there?
Because, this is the point. Most people are pathetic cowards in the face of bullying. If you say to the knitting nutter ‘hey, stop that’; you aren’t actually really being brave, are you? The fucking Gestapo isn’t going to arrive and take you away and torture you to death.
That is the point, isn’t it? The people who cheerfully admit they would have kicked Jews to death shouldn’t actually think they have the right to justify it by saying that you know…they just wouldn’t have been able to accept those particular consequences.
It is shameful that people aren’t willing to stand up to bullies. I don’t know if I will be brave when it is really hard, but in my own life I do fight bullies be they not of the spine-chillingly terrifying ones of Nazi Germany, and I can see this actually counts for something because most people don’t. Just don’t. Full stop. I can see from time to time that it costs me too. So be it.
This is how it goes. To begin with you don’t do anything about Jews being kicked because, hey, they aren’t actually being killed, just getting a bit of a beating, they’ll recover and as things progress you start to justify your behaviour by saying it is too dangerous to intervene. You were never going to do the right thing. You just pretend to yourself that you had adequate reason for being a good person who did nothing.
And yes indeedy, dear readers. I got kicked out of a knitting group a few weeks ago in just these circumstances. And as I left I was disgusted more by the people who knitted on, eyes down, glad it wasn’t them it was happening to, than I was by Madam Defarge, (as I discovered is her name adopted by the more disrespectful Manchester knitters). It is because people like them won’t stand up to the woman who runs their knitting group that you end up with Nazis. So, I’m not prepared to excuse the German population as if something special was happening. At some point it was just a crazy person running a knitting group and they were too fucking pathetic to do anything about it. ...more