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Monday, April 15, 2024
Opinion: Disero, who are you really condemning?


Dear Editor,

When I read a condemnation of bullying from Lord Mayor Betty Disero then I nod and say, “Fine work! Good going! Well done!”

And if Lord Mayor Disero had condemned bullying in her actual letter, I would have been happy to do and say just that.

But the title “Disero condemns bullying” didn’t quite fit the letter. For one thing, Disero doesn’t actually condemn bullying — she condemns bullies and that is something else entirely.

I’d rather she had named names. Although she hints at something I suppose we’re all supposed to already know about, the closest thing to detail she allows is when she refers to “something that came up during International Woman’s Day.” If you don’t know what that might be then that’s too bad.

Disero refers to “the issue of bullying and a common strategy used by bullies,” cautioning us that the worst thing is being “pulled in to siding with a bully.”

To start with, I must insist that there is a critical difference between condemning “bullying” and “bullies.”

One can use the substitution method with Disero’s letter to see what I mean. Substitute your family name for “bullies” and the letter still makes sense — because Disero is condemning a group of people first, and their strategies second.

It is enough to say bullying is wrong and when you bully, you become a bully (as well as everything else you are). Disero goes further than is required when she says “friends or communities can become extremely divided by the actions of a single person. That isn’t fair or right.”

Firstly, we can and do sometimes become extremely divided by the actions of a single person — I just don’t believe in Disero’s “we,” one which must be defined as a perfect unity.

Secondly, that single person might be Socrates, Jesus or Gandhi.

There is no “we” that cannot be divided by the principles of an individual. Sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes we’re right. It’s pushing the envelope really far to say that when we are wrong we are “bullies” and when we are right we’re the good guy. But the Lord Mayor’s idea is that “bullies” are wrong on purpose. As such, “bullies do not add to the outstanding quality of life we live here for.”

There’s that “we” again.

It’s a rather pointed “us vs. them” where “we” are like Disero and “them” is the bullies.

Might I point out that as a representative of all of us, Disero represents the people who bully us too? That it might be expedient to recuse herself from this conversation?

I too believe bullying is undesirable, which is not to say “bullies” are undesirable or irredeemable.

I mean, gangs are undesirable, hucksters are undesirable, so are quacks and hacks. These undesirables have actual gang names and snake-oil brands that we can refer to. Does raising awareness about “them” and ostracizing “them” address the actual gangs or snake-oil out there?

I think this is where the funniness comes into it. Disero has confused the concepts of identity and category. Used properly, “bullies” aren’t an actual group of people with a common identity. They aren’t identifiable by their common strategy. They don’t have factions and board meetings (usually).

What happens when the We Bullies movement starts? One that raises awareness because in 2019 we didn’t have the capacity to truly understand Bullies’ needs? I mean, hypothetically. What then?

All that could be said of Disero’s letter in that case would be that she has inappropriately singled out a group of ill-defined people and publicly condemned them.

Even in a children’s book nobody dislikes ogres in general, but ogres in particular. No great children’s book ever taught the child to condemn ogres. Or ogreism. The best of them teach that someday one of us might come upon a challenge akin to meeting an ogre and to prepare yourself. To learn as much as possible and to try to make wise decisions.

And these days it is as likely that the story is about an ogre that redeems itself.

I’d like to think that Disero’s bullies, like ogres, reveal themselves only within the imagination for us, so that we can deal with reality, which is more complicated. I’d like to think it, but Disero seems to really want us to go about our daily lives identifying ogres — I mean, “bullies”.

She should have just condemned an actual “bully” so at least we can see a “bully” for real and see if it fits our definition of a bully.

I have to entertain the thought that even a “bully” might be able to contribute to the undertakings of our municipality.

Suppose one of them cures cancer? Or writes a book about Picasso? Or is your garbage man? Or the best plumber in town?

I mean, I don’t hate bullies. I can’t abide bullying, but I don’t hate people who bully! I’ll go as far as to say I can work with a bully until they start bullying. After all, you have to deal with all sorts if you want to get on in life.

And here’s another thing the Lord Mayor fails to understand — what she calls a “bully” is more like someone who declares war on you. When it’s undeserved we shout, “Bully!” — like someone burning shouts, “Fire!”

Disero claims to know of a “strategy” consisting of “three particular tactics”

1: (Bullies) create chaos and spread misinformation. 2: They use fear as a tool. And 3: They encourage victims to distrust the authorities.

First off, a strategy to what? I’ll supply the answer: Bullying hurts people.

She then, unbelievably, gives the following advice.

“Speak up and push back.”

Which brings up the real issue, What should be done with bullies? Should we bring back the stocks and pelt them with rotten fruit?

Whatever the solution, I am sure when you’re pushed by a bully you should not push back.

How should we treat bullies? For those of us too timid to adopt the philosophy put forward in The Art Of War, I suggest that if you can, you should try and get away.

A relationship with a bully is like being caught in a bear-trap. Gnaw off your foot if you have to. If you have to engage a bully, attempt to deescalate the situation.

It bothers me a little bit that Disero thinks that if you defer to her way of thinking than you have the power to “combat” bullies.

Well not you yourself.

“When we or someone acting on our behalf has the guts to stand up to them, the bullies get put in their place,” she says.

Which is as much to say people being bullied must not have the guts. If they did, or had a friend with guts, the bullies would all be in their proper place.

But what if someone declares war on you and you’re not a war-like individual? Do you want or need a warrior to come to your rescue?

She says “we” or “someone acting on our behalf” can do it. Which is to say a  gang can beat a bully.

Is it helpful to exclaim, as Disero suggests, “I see what your doing, and it’s going to stop?”

Isn’t this exactly what a bully waits for and hopes for? The response to which the bully has been fulminating since the bullying began? Speak up and you’re not only bullied but you’re condemned as paranoid!

So, in Disero’s first “tactic” to identify bullies, she says they “pretend to be experts.”

Sparring the irony in Disero’s expertise on bullying, this isn’t the definition of a tactic it’s the definition of a person that is fake, self-interested, ignorant of facts and who happily sows discord.

The only problem is that sometimes when a great idea is introduced into a society it is attacked by detractors as fake, self-interested, ignorant and discordant. You know, like the planet revolving around the sun was challenged.

To Disero, the strategy of a ‘bully’ is actually a mimicry of the strategy of persuasion. Surely we aren’t fortifying ourselves against the necessary and healthy act of being persuaded? And since the two strategies are identical, who’s to tell the bully from the persuasive leader? Disero says you can “see” the bully. Which isn’t very helpful.

In the end, after personally assuring us that she knows what “bullying” is and knows how to beat the bullies, Disero says we will: counteract chaos with calm, neutralize misinformation and calm fears. One, Two, Three. Just like that she’s done it. But has she? What effect has her letter had on the two duelling newspapers, The Lake Report and The NOTL Local?

The Lake Report does the journalism.

The Lord Mayor has sent issue and here’s an editor that saw fit to publish it. The overall effect of her letter’s placement in The Lake Report is that the matter was weighed and published accordingly.

Penny Coles, the editor of The Local responds in a peculiarly enthusiastic mode that, “There are bullies among us,” and that “it could be anyone of us being bullied.”

But just think of how differently the effect of a letter called, “Disero forgives bullies,” might have played out.

That’s all folks. Perhaps it’s better to just say, “Fine work, Good Job! Well done!”


Jesse Lepp

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