Why is it, in our modern world, we seem so tolerant of bad behaviour? Nowadays it seems if you are going to be a bastard, the trick is to get in first. It puts you above the reach of anyone who might call you out for the behaviour – it makes you inviolate. It is the person who reacts that gets the dis-approving frown.
We all know this, instinctively, these days. It creates a kind of quiet, conservative cowardice and a preparedness to put up with things we shouldn’t. I do this too. I’m not criticising others who react like this, I’m trying to understand. Think of how we tend to react to rudeness these days. I’m like anyone else – if someone starts over-crowding me unreasonably on public transport, or pushes in in a queue – I tend to do nothing, turn away, brood in silence.
I don’t think I’m alone.
Because this tolerance – and quite frankly resilience – is expected of us. It’s a cultural norm that has risen to a kind of badge of honour – we don’t ‘dob’ on someone. We don’t sound the alarm. But this creates a paradox of morality. We may not speak when we should. We create or enable unpleasant and unreasonable circumstances in our attempt to seem neither unpleasant nor unreasonable. Sometimes we need to speak up, even if that means we break this cultural code. Because some actions shouldn’t be tolerated.
I’m not sure how common this is – across cultures other than my own. I suspect it is quite widespread. Bullying on the internet seems to know no cultural boundaries, and follows a similar pattern. It’s common for the bullies to come out swinging, but then – on the rare occasion they are called on the behaviour – to whine they are bullied. Yes, it might seem hypocritical to bully the bully, but surely that is preferable to being the original bully? At least it is in response to something, delivering your message in the only language, perhaps, that the bully understands.
They will tell you it’s childish to point out who started a conflagration, but sometimes it’s also the entire point. It’s insidious. You can be as cruel as you want as long as you are just ‘stating your opinion’, and anyone who calls you on the unnecessary nastiness of the words or actions is somehow violating your basic human right to express yourself. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like opinions that are informed, for a start – just being the first to be cruel doesn’t somehow imbue the words with greater import, accuracy or wisdom. Cruel is cruel, right through. It’s not necessarily intelligent.
Or strong. I remember listening years ago to a group of some would-be Wiccan types. Now I have nothing against alternative spiritual paths and those that genuinely follow them, but these girls were all about how ‘dark’ they were, how ‘evil’, how ‘damned’ (and this was before the Twilight phenomenon!). It became clear that their claims were a type of deluded talisman – if they were the darkest, the most damned, then they would have nothing to fear – they would be mysterious and powerful! And glamorous!
But evil isn’t glamorous. It’s running into Ted Bundy on a deserted highway. It’s a pack of school and cyber-bullies taunting another to suicide. It’s a grifter conning an old age pensioner out of their life savings. It’s banal and putrid, usually mad and weak, nothing to aspire to here.
A new age healer recently expounded to me that the best way for someone to get over abuse was to recognise they were solely responsible for their reaction to it and that they had allocated the term ‘bad’ to the behaviour when it was just ‘behaviour’, nothing more. Moreover, to ‘get over it’ they would need to go and apologise to the abuser for daring to judge the original behaviour. Good grief!! And he was serious! I wanted to ask him if one of his clients absconded with his product without paying if he could recognise it wasn’t ‘bad’ behaviour, or criminal, just behaviour, and if it vexed him for a moment would he go and apologise to them???
I don’t know. Maybe his philosophy made him feel safe. It seemed to come from that weird distortion of karmic/energetic theory that says if you don’t think negative thoughts then negative things won’t happen to you. Bit too close to ‘blame the victim’ for my taste. Bit too much like magical thinking.
Bullies seem to find the sweet spot of their victims with the unswerving precision of vultures circling the exposed bellies of rabbits. I know that psychology might say attackers are just projecting their own self-loathing, but hey, maybe they are right to loathe themselves. Try being nice for a change. See the difference?
But we are silenced somehow, about this. I’m not even sure when or how this happened, how it grew out of social interactions into this silent, monolithic truth. I only know that now we are told we cannot judge, we must be ‘tolerant’. Even of other smaller, specific, targeted intolerances it seems. Or rudeness. Or cruelty. Well, presuming they get in first (then they get the cultural free pass). Reacting to it just makes you the cruel, rude one. Apparently.
This runs like a silent secret under our human interactions. It dictates the terrible social hierarchy from high school into the hereafter. It shrouds the web like some lurking disease.
Isn’t it time this stopped? Isn’t it time we took stock? Isn’t it time we said that enough is enough, and that bad behaviour is just bad behaviour? I get that in the end we are masters, or mistresses, of our own destiny, and we can choose to ignore or turn the other cheek. But sometimes the other cheek shouldn’t turn. And no amount of us stepping back and adjusting our attitude to the slings and arrows changes the fact that sometimes the other person’s action is just wrong.
I admit it. I hate bullies. I hate self-obsessed behaviour that wants the whole world to be its mirror and to be always central stage, always first, always with the most toys, no matter what impact it has on others or how much cheating and subterfuge is required to make it so.
So I am intolerant. I am judgemental. Of that. I don’t think we should tolerate that behaviour. In ourselves, or anyone else. And I despair of the fact that so deep in our culture these days is this queasiness with calling it out, which sometimes means we’d rather ignore it, or- even worse – side with the bully, rather than call it out and make it stop.
You’ve got to be cruel to be kind. Rubbish, you’ve got to be kind to be kind. What’s so hard about that?
Addendum: Just wanted to pop back to clarify one thing – when I talked of the would-be Wiccans above I did not mean to imply I think Wicca is about darkness or cruelty – I know it isn’t. My point was that it was the fact that these people gloated about being evil and dark while also claiming to be Wiccan that betrayed something else was going on. As I noted, I respect those who genuinely follow positive paths, whatever they may be.