you and bob (and the cycle of injustice)

Imagine for a moment that you are back in school, and that you are in school with a boy who I’ll call Bob. You and Bob attend school together from kindergarten through graduation.

Bob is kind of a know-it-all. He likes to be in charge and boss people around — especially you and your group of friends. He thinks he’s superior, and he reminds you of this every chance he gets. He even looks the part. He’s clean cut, wears pressed clothes, and he’s from a good, wholesome, American family. You, on the other hand, are not as privileged as Bob. Maybe you don’t have a lot of money. Maybe your home life isn’t perfect. And yet, you’re still a good kid — a kid who is doing everything he can to work hard and be the best version of himself.

As time goes on, you grow tired of Bob’s superiority complex. You are unhappy with the way he speaks to you and others in your group of friends. It’s demoralizing, and not respectful, courteous, or fair. Even more upsetting is that Bob enjoys trying to get you in trouble. He’s constantly in the ears of teachers or administrators, telling them stories about things that you mostly did not do. And they believe him! Because Bob is a “good kid.” He comes from lovely home and background. Don’t forget he looks like the all-American boy. Why would Bob have a reason to lie?

Naturally, your sadness and exhaustion turns into anger. You are just sick of dealing with Bob and his antics, and you begin to act out a bit — partly in frustration and partly because you’re trying to get someone, anyone, to realize that Bob isn’t the angel he claims to be. However, this tactic backfires. It only serves to get you in more trouble. Now you are constantly in the principal’s office or serving detention. Everywhere you go, there are eyes on you.

Finally, one day during senior year, Bob approaches you in the hallway and says something that baits you. You snap, and you take a swing at Bob. He responds by punching you right in the face, knocking you out cold. When you come to, you expect to see that — finally! — Bob has received punishment for his actions. Only that’s not the case. Bob is praised as a hero. And you? Well, you’re just the “thug” who has been expelled from school, your future lost, for instigating a fight with Bob.

Now, imagine that Bob’s father grew up with your father and treated him in this way. The same with Bob’s grandfather and your grandfather. The list goes on.

I realize that I’ve boiled this scenario down into a very basic, generalized framework, and that the true issues are far deeper and more complex than outlined above. Yet, I think (or at least I hope) you gathered the underlying point. When someone — or, in a larger sense, something — puts you down repeatedly over a period of time (years, decades, centuries), it’s difficult to treat that entity with the same respect and authority that, say, kids outside of your circle or the teachers or the administration treat that entity. It’s even more difficult to not, after a while, lose your cool with said person/thing. To lose faith in the system that is supposed to protect you from that person/thing. To feel devalued as a human.

Look, I don’t condone violence. I truly believe in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

But I do see how the magnitude and the gravity of this situation — still talking about the fictional “you” here — could lead a person to exhibit anger. I also recognize that it isn’t my place to tell “you” how you should think or feel or react when you’ve reached that breaking point with Bob. Because I’m not in your shoes. Because I have no true concept of how it feels to be oppressed for (days, months, years, decades, centuries) by Bob and his relatives. Bob has, for the most part, only treated me and my friends with kindness and respect. He’s been helpful and accommodating in many situations. Therefore, it would be easier for me and my friends to believe that Bob is in the right here. That you taking a swing at Bob was completely unjustified.

The problem with this is that, by me not validating your feelings, I’m aiding in the continuation of the cycle. Which means that Bob’s children will likely torment your children in the same way he tormented you. And with each generation, the level of patience and understanding with Bob and his family will diminish faster than the last, because the pattern of ugly behavior has already been clearly established. Hell, it was most likely established in your mind, too, but maybe you gave Bob the benefit of the doubt…

But I’ll just go ahead and state the even bigger issue here: real life is so much more convoluted and painful than this simple, watered-down scenario. In real life, Bob has a weapon. Bob has a badge. Bob isn’t just a bully supported by teachers and administrators. Instead, Bob has the strength and the authority of the government behind him, as well as the majority of a nation. There is no system of checks and balances for Bob. No true rules. No true punishment. While we’d like to believe that Bob uses all of this power for good instead of evil, this isn’t always the case. You know this better than anyone.

And speaking of you, what about “you” in real life? Well, you — unfortunately — are left unprotected. You don’t have the badge or the power or the benefit of the doubt. But let’s face it . . .  you knew that already, didn’t you?

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4 thoughts on “you and bob (and the cycle of injustice)

  1. You. Are. Brilliant.

    Please excuse all typos, my phone thinks it’s smarter than I am. I am also, no doubt, dictating this email to my phone, so please excuse all autocorrects and homophones.

    >

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