Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

When a friend turns creepy

We bring you this post from Summer Carrick, our Crossing Borders project coordinator.

Here is the scene…

Two of your friends start dating. They fall in love, but instead of coming back to the surface they stay immersed.

In a weird way.

In a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.

Then you notice that she grows more silent, and he does all the talking. You see less of them. She seems nervous. She makes excuses for him. Her face is stressed. The energy does not feel happily in love, rather, it’s just…tense.

So, what do you do when you are sitting at dinner and he starts to belittle her?

You would think after 12 years of doing this work, I would have the answer. Instead, I fight with what I was socialized to do (nothing, none of my business) and what I want to do (support my friends to have a happy relationship).

But, how?

Many research hours later, this is the best I could find:

– I talk about it when things are good and we are just talking naturally about his relationship.

– I am direct and clear about what I have seen and how it impacts ME as HIS friend.

– I’m not judging you, friend, but this is what happened and how I experienced it.

– So now that you know it’s not working for me, is it working for you?

– I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to be a friend and support you.

– Just know that I’m not willing to watch you be a bully.

If all of that is too much and I don’t know what to say, I default to the truth….I care and I am concerned.

And yes, I’ve seen my women friends using abusive behavior too. I’ve seen it in straight and queer relationships. And you know what?  I’m not scared to call those women out on it. And when I do, they have always gone straight to critical reflection and apologies. So why is it that when I have tried to have this kind of conversation with men, they have become defensive or downright scary? The best I can come up with is the way we socialize men. The scary reaction may be why we avoid talking to men about their abusive behavior. And the cost of that is much too great. So, as scary as it seems to care and be concerned, we can’t afford the alternative.

-Summer Carrick, the coordinator of our Crossing Borders Project