Over the last few days, I watched two dvd documentaries. One was called “Bully”, directed by Lee Hirsch, and the other “13 Families: Life After Columbine”, co-directed by Nicole Corbin, Mark Katchur, and Steve Lukanic. I am also currently reading “Fall of Giants” about the First World War, and “The Rich and the Rest of Us: a Poverty Manifesto” by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.
As usual, my mind is searching to make connections, understand the reality we all create together, all while wondering why we aren’t creating a more balanced, peaceful, and egalitarian world for ourselves, our children, and for future generations. Is the greed and egotism of adults causing our children to be angry and lack focus or sense of purpose? As they observe the majority of adults and the culture we create decimating our planet, destroying our natural resources, and treating one another with disaffection, how can they not be angry?
Bullying and scapegoating are unfortunately long part of all human societies through history. In order to maintain order rather than look within for our own shadows, peoples around the world have systematically sought out groups or individuals onto whom they can easily cast blame without staining their own sense of self. Nonetheless, traditional societies all seek to create some kind of order as well as some kind of connection to invisible worlds. Male and female each have their roles to play, and children are trained to see the world as their parents do. There are flaws in any societal system, but humans do need culture and boundaries in order to function and makes sense of the world.
Yet culture is not a substitute for thinking or for self-responsibility. Today, we live in increasingly deconstructed cultures, and the shadow seems to be taking the upper hand. In any case, if ordinary people wish to find a sense of meaning, peace, or balance in their lives, then we need to question our priorities. Why are children who are not in need of food, shelter, or education acting with such savagery? Why has bullying become so prevalent among children and adults (in the workplace, for example)?
In the dvd “Bully”, the school principal and counselors depicted seemed powerless to offer appropriate consequences to extremely violent non-empathetic behavior. Could it be that decades of educators and parents who are responsible for raising children in an ambiance of litigation and fear thereof have simply abdicated their roles and their authority? In the film, parents try to inform school officials that their children are not safe at school, but nothing is done to improve the situations. The misbehaving children are certainly looking for guidance from these same adults, but they are finding neither guidance nor protective boundaries or consequences. Violence erupts because the children are frightened of their own emotions that they do not have the maturity to contain. The whole point of culture is to contain and give form to human expression and to help us to grow and feel safe within a group, which is always a potentially violent equation. Rituals and boundaries, as well as communication with our inner voices and spiritual guides permit us to safely navigate our own natures as well as the collective natures of our communities.
In the dvd “13 Families”, the parents of the two shooters are mentioned only in passing. The movie documents the process of grieving experienced by the 13 families whose children were killed by the two boys, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. One father mentions that he and his wife received a letter from the parents of one of the boys responsible for the shootings. It was basically a form letter drafted by a lawyer, he said, devoid of emotion or compassion. I thought that was a terrible shame, as the parents on both sides were not given the opportunity to share their grief and sorrow in this terribly difficult situation. I feel that all parents and all adults are responsible collectively for this type of terrible tragedy, for each time this happens, we have failed all of the children involved for many years. Many of these parents have devoted their lives since the loss of their children to gun control, spreading awareness of the need for compassion for self and others. Others chose to grieve more privately.
As I read “Fall of Giants”, by Ken Follett, the theme of the folly of war and the opposition of wealthy privileged individuals who benefit from war as well as from poverty to those who are required to serve those same callous aristocrats are abundantly illustrated. Follett makes it clear that World War I could have been easily avoided, but for the eagerness of the wealthy and powerful to defend their egotistical need to be right.
In the Tavis Smiley and Cornel West title, “The Rich and the Rest of Us”, published in 2012, the authors decided to take action against the increasing disparity in wealth between the top 1% and the rapidly shrinking and increasingly impoverished middle class as it begins to blend into the pool of the chronically poor. The co-authors speak of the stigma of poverty in the United States and how the culture of privilege lies in the very roots and foundations of this country, which created its wealth and rapid growth to the detriment, work, and suffering and decimation of Native American peoples and African slaves. Without this culture of privilege and cruelty to those unable to defend or protect themselves, this country and the culture we experience today would not exist as such. So the corporate greed, political dishonesty, and disrespect of the average human being by the system are consistent with the philosophy of our forefathers. They say they left England to pursue religious freedom and to break away from the stranglehold of the aristocracy and clergy in Europe, but in the end, they re-created what they knew which was more of the same. The authors also stress the need for people to stand up against poverty, against discrimation against the poor, and to take a stand for compassion.
How can we reduce violence and poverty in our country? To me, the answer lies in self-awareness and the desire to take responsibility for the world that each of us creates through our thoughts, feelings, and the way we treat ourselves and one another.