Darren Byrne wrote a very good piece on bullying this week and I found myself reading many more of his posts because he is a good writer. His other post on values in Ireland struck a note with me personally as well as professionally and we had a brief email exchange on the topic of values, which he’ll be developing over the coming time. I’m still getting use to the idea of talking politics and philosophy with a crabling otter but that’s probably because I am not sure what Fauxsty is all about. That and the fact that most people born before 1982 have a slight discomfort with so much online revelation.
But here’s some bullying-linked revelation of my own (*eats own words). I grew up in a small housing estate on the southside of Cork city and I was friendly with all of the boys and girls on the part of the street where we lived. One particular boy, Joe, was a few years (or months, it seems so relevant then) older than me and my other friends. He was physically stronger and bigger than us all and when he lost his ‘youngest child in the family’ status, things took a turn for the worst. He started killing neighbourhood cats in a systematic way, beating up everyone he could find and generally doing anything to gain parental attention. The point is that I felt like his chosen friend. I looked up to him (before the feline murders I hasten to add, give me some credit) and knew that because both of his parents worked (this was 1970s Ireland) his house was a place where the rules of my family’s house were routinely transgressed. Feet on the furniture, that kind of thing, the usual things for a 9 year old.
There was something about the relationship that made me crave his approval. Perhaps it was looking for a replacement following the death of my domineering live-in grandmother. I forgot myself – my self – my own needs and answering my own desires in trying to gain his approval. I lost my own sense of my self; I was subsumed under the other’s will because it meant I did not have to answer to my own desires. I sought reflection in Joe, I looked for my self in Joe and subsumed my self within Joe’s self. Who was I? My identity was comfortable as his sidekick. At the same time, I was playing the ‘good boy’ at home. To describe him as having a power over me is not doing anyone any favours but I found it hard to escape from this relationship. I was easily influenced into petty theft from local shops and being generally mean at a time when I should have been chasing girls. The chain of dependency was broken quite violently after cracking to my parents that yes, I had been the one stealing. Joe later unleashed a fury that I couldn’t understand from someone who I thought liked me. Was I bullied? Complicit?
I cannot answer these questions at 25 years remove but one thing is for sure: I now know that I have since sought out – and been attracted to – relationships that allow my self to be subsumed within the other. The guy at college who talks cleverly, the boss at my last workplace who can help me to realise ambition, the friend who gives my subsumed self access to ‘cool’ things.I wilfully push it on to them because it means I do not have to think about my self – a kind of ego laziness. Where was I all of this time? What was I doing for my self? Not much is the answer here.