Bullies And The Fork In The Road

Most of you don’t know this, but the beta version of Justice was a far cry from the uber-social techno-dweeb you know today.

My “once upon a time” took place in Breckenridge, Colo., circa 1977. I was not part of any clique, wasn’t a trust-fund kid, and didn’t have a huge network of homeboys. My funny name didn’t help. And to top it off, I was in educational support classes because I had to play catch-up after starting in Florida’s rudimentary education system

That lethal combination made me a perfect magnet for bullies. Sometimes I had friends one day and enemies the next. But kids are cruel, and that's that. I fear nothing will ever change there.

However, I’m grateful that those experiences shaped who I am today.

I would like to think I’ve grown up to be an open-minded supporter of those who cannot do for themselves. Whether that be through the pro bono work I take on, the peers I mentor (my wife calls them my "projects"), or simply my stubborn refusal to accept that the world is the screwed-up hell hole the media portrays it to be.

Those formative experiences also led to my position as a recovering co-dependent who navigates through life with a “rescuer” switch welded to the dashboard. I promised myself I would NEVER be bullied again. Not by a person, a situation, a brand or an ideal. That last one is the most difficult to codify. It’s also the one that resonates for me in this current anti-terrorism, socio-political culture.

Fast forward to September 11, 2001, as I stood in the lobby of a small advertising agency in Orlando, Fla., watching a tiny TV while two buildings burned and the sky rained terror. When Tower One collapsed, so did something in my heart. Because I was witnessing the greatest act of bullying I'd ever seen.

Like most red-blooded Americans, I wanted to raise my fist in anger and retaliation. Don’t bring that shit to MY block, you sons of bitches! But at the same time, I wasn’t blind to the fact that we as Americans have a history of trying to blatantly impose our beliefs and value systems on other countries. And many citizens of those countries probably look at our intervention and think: Don’t bring that shit to MY village! 

When we take on the role of the world’s policeman, some people see us as the “bullies” while others see us as the “saviors.” I can only hope (not assume) that we are the latter. That being said, since 9/11 I've watched a war unfold and a nation grow weak due to divisive partisan politics, civil unrest, a weakening economy and pressure from around the world.

What's the point to this post? I pause to wonder about that myself. I started it to advocate that we use storytelling as a non-lethal weapon against enemies of peace (however that term may be defined), and to further support and uplift reconstruction in a time of low morale. But now I’m at a great fork in the road. In the same way that we can’t truly understand the hatred some people have for us as Americans, there’s no way we can change the global public opinion of who we are.

What we can do, however, is use our voices to tell the world we are not blind to the past, and we want to change the future – for the better.

I guess we fight wars with words as much as we do bullets. Like any kid who was ever teased or bullied, I learned that lesson early in life. And one of the takeaways from those playground experiences is that sometimes you just need to turn the other cheek. You have to make the decision that it’s going to end right here because bullying in any fashion is just plain wrong. And in that spirit, maybe we as a nation should take the same approach. Let’s not let the words and actions of others affect us.

Of course as Americans we will always come to the aid of those in need. It's what we do. And like it or not, that is often seen as self-serving. I am proud to be an American. I'm proud to be the champion of the weak. I only hope that in the future, in our darkest hour, people will come to our aid. Time will tell.

Sorry for the brooding tone of this post. It's something that has been on my mind for some time, and this is my attempt to extricate it from my brain like Harry Potter's “Pensieve,” without losing my undying love for the underdog.

It's ironic that quite often those who bully have never been bullied. For those of you who might think you’re better than the collective, let me assure you that karma is a bitch. And she pays back in spades.

Posted on September 11, 2011 and filed under People, Soapbox, Storytelling.