Monday, May 5, 2014

I Carried a Pocket Knife

A no-brainer news article points out that victims of bullies are more likely to carry weapons to school. Duh. When a person finds that their safety and well-being are at risk, that person will do whatever it takes to protect themselves. The principal is one of self-preservation.

Long ago, when I suffered from bullying, and the P.E. teacher made clear he would do nothing about it--other than punish me for complaining--I started carrying a pocket knife to school. But the little knife was not enough. I fantasized about carrying my gun and using it against the bully and the P.E. teacher. They deserved punishment for their actions, but on the other hand, I deserved only the best in life, and so I spared them. The same principal of self-preservation that led me to carry a pocket knife led me not to use it.

The desire for vengeance must be balanced with the potential cost. Sometimes, however, people are driven to such extremes that they no longer care about the cost. I fear some of the young killers of today lack the intellectual assets to calculate the costs. They are throwing away the best part of their lives and in some cases killing innocents, which is ugly and senseless and without any sense of honor at all. To harm innocents is to become a bully, to be just like the ones you hate.

The young killer's awareness about the world and about society is so impaired that he cannot predict the outcome of his deeds. I found it helpful to role-play with cold clarity and precision. This is the way to avoid grave errors that cannot be remedied. Role-play. The human animal has developed fantastic powers of imagination, because it is useful to predict the outcomes of actions. One can imagine the different futures arising from different strategies.

Many times, I imagined killing my enemy, the brutal and arrogant bully, using a variety of means. I imagined killing the cruel and heartless P.E. teacher. I imagined killing them both on the same day. I calculated the probabilities of success and the possibilities that something unexpected might happen. I imagined what would happen in the next minute, the next hour, the next day, and the years to come. I did not like what I saw. I also did not like the idea of violence. Vengeance is one thing, but violence is another. Violence is disturbing to me whether I am being hurt or hurting. It goes against everything ingrained in my personality and upbringing. The idea of committing a real crime and receiving the disapproval of others seemed worse to me than the idea of enduring further abuse.
Our society is pacifist. The only accepted outlet for violence is war, and wars happen overseas, far away. Most people are like me. We are taught to abstain from violence. There are consequences for people who engage in illegal acts of violence. There is no legal concept that permits premeditated vengeance.

In Viking society, the outcome would have been different. Vikings did not leave much in the hands of karma. Vikings were about vengeance. Vikings were about blood. There is something satisfying about that, something genuine, something that appeals to our animal nature. That does not make it right, but it does explain why the History Channel's "Vikings" is such an entertaining show. It seems to me the show is all about vengeance.

I do think it is important to eliminate bullying in schools, because violence is like a virus. Violence has a way of spreading, and not everyone calls upon their power of imagination to abstain from vengeance. Nor is everyone scrupulous in limiting collateral damage.

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