Gideon Burton’s recent blog describes the persecution his elementary school-age son has received because of the extreme right-wing reaction to the President’s speech to school children. And, of course, bullying is not limited to children. Bullying occurs whenever a person with power intimidates persons with less power. Two weeks ago a minority of right-wing parents intimidated timid school officials into disallowing their students to listen to the President of the United States address them.
I find bullying despicable, especially since I recognize in myself a (mostly) latent desire to be a bully. When neighbors and relatives tell me that President Obama’s birth certificate is not authentic or that invading Iraq was a positive because “now girls can go to school there,” I want to grab them by the ears, shake them until their teeth rattle, and make them promise not to turn on talk radio again for the rest of their lives. I want to demonstrate the stupidity of the propaganda they’ve inhaled and make them squirm like a puppy about to get its nose rubbed in a puddle.
I think my problem stems from reading too many Batman and Robin comic books as a child. I fantasized about carrying a rope, mask, blue jeans and a blue shirt and cape undetected to school. When an older child picked on a younger at recess, I would swoop from the roof of Franklin Elementary School on my rope kicking the teeth from the jaws of the bully (at age ten I didn’t worry about how I would get on the roof or what my rope would be tied to). When my awed classmates asked, “Who are you?” I would answer, “The Jesse James Rider,” then swing back to the rooftop on my trusty rope, change back into civilian clothes, and return to class by the time the bell rang.
Somehow I haven’t outgrown the desire to defend the underdog. Last week one of my visiting teachers made a solo visit when her partner was delayed. Margaret hesitantly admitted having grown up in a family of Democrats and favoring those policies. “But I can’t say anything about that at Church,” she said, “or everybody will jump all over me. And I have to listen to the most awful things about President Obama who is doing the best he can in a bad situation.”
I consoled Margaret and told her she was not alone, but deep in my heart, I know that’s not enough. I want to attend Church and challenge the nutcases who make comments like, “They are trying to take ‘in God we trust’ off our money.” I want to drip sarcasm, “Well, that will really make shopping a less spiritual experience.” I want to challenge those who agree with Elder Bruce Hafen’s assessment that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation to imagine trying to change their own sexual orientation. I want to defend ward members who are not wing nuts—to show them they are not alone.
But I don’t. I tell myself it’s because it’s not Christ-like to attend church for the purpose of showing up illogical thinking. For a while, I tried the adversarial approach. I carefully read the Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society manuals and came to class armed to refute misinformation—i.e. “Brother Instructor, when you said the creation of Israel was a sign of prophecy being fulfilled, you overlooked the fact that every Book of Mormon reference to the return of the Jews to the Promised Land says it will be after they have come to a knowledge of Christ. Clearly, that has not happened yet.”
Somehow my comments placed me in the bully rather than in the hero category. I was neither Batman nor Robin. I was the Joker. The narrow line between defending truth and righteousness and becoming a bully myself runs across a mighty slippery slope.