And It Makes You Wonder…

I love the Olympics. I tell myself I don’t care but it grips me. Partly it’s the black and white nature of sporting success and failure, the distillation of the human condition in microcosm. But it also brings to the fore a dreadful human trait – bullying. The criticism levelled at Simone Biles for stepping back from her sport, the stories told about body shaming of female athletes, the stupid gibes at Tom Daley for knitting while watching his fellow competitors; all examples of bullying.

It’s not just at the individual level that we see constant and egregious bullying; it has a long history. I’ve often wondered at the way the world is set up and the conflicts inherent in it. History, power, colonialism, they have all had a part to play in the dominance of nations and nation states in the current construct. Stemming from the idea of the balance of power following the gradual collapse of the empires that dominated Europe before the eighteenth century and formally embodied in the concept of the United Nations post WW2, we live in a world where control is dictated by and between Nations. And what we see is how power is everything, and when it is out of balance – which it always is – we see bullying.

Sometimes there is a breaking down of the barriers put up by nations – in the EU for instance – but the more some barriers shrink often the greater the call for a new set of powers and controls, just with a wider set of boundaries. You can look at, say, the collapse of Yugoslavia or the re-absorption of Crimea into Russia or the struggles of the Uighur in China, the Rohingya in Burma, Belorussia and see what happens when one piece of land, one group of people want to distance themselves from another group and either float free or attach themselves to another piece or group – and the violence and conflict that then ensues.

And then again, we see and hear tales of violence and hurt levelled at one group by another but about which no one can do anything for fear of ‘interfering in the internal affairs of a nation’.  And even when, sometimes, something is done to address a level of egregious behaviour the consequences can be dire – the dismantling of Iraq and the subsequent rise of IS or the cruel interminable devastation that is Afghanistan’s lot come to mind.

This is bullying on a  international scale. This is bullying of vast numbers of people and about which we stand by, powerless to intervene. It may be carried out by those we believe corrupt and evil, or by those who we naturally assume are democratic and caring. Those who saw globalisation as a new dawn, a future where a common standard would be accepted, or maybe imposed, when some supranational body might take on the role of the World’s policeman – they have been sorely tried and tested and found short of ideas. The UN was never fit for that purpose – arguably never fit for any purpose. There have been some successes in chasing out the exploitative but for every Tunisia there is a Libya (and recently one must wonder at the success that was Tunisia and indeed question how successful the democratization of Hungary really is) – any successes are often fragile and few and far between. Still better something than nothing.

As an individual it is possible to look on and despair at the narrow views expressed by the world’s political leaders – who necessarily reflect the thinking of their peoples. Those destined to keep or lose power at the ballot box often feel they cannot spend precious hours on ‘bigger pictures’ when there’s enough at home with immediate impacts to keep them engaged. Why would anyone worry about a small group of beleaguered people many miles away and over whom one never has any control? Politics are the art of the possible after all.

But globalisation has done one big thing; it has shown us the damage caused in other nations, in other parts of the world. Moreover, it has shown us how our indifferent bullying of our own planet has created a potential time bomb that, while perhaps miles away is capable of exploding on all of us. This is no more apparent than with climate change. We know of the danger of climate change even if we fail yet to know, and can still argue about, what the consequences will be. Somewhere, in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, a land of plastic floats together, grinding itself into a granular  soup of unnatural polymers. Today we watch the 24/7 news that brings details of extreme weather events in places and with a regularity never seen before. This is our fault, all of us who use plastic, who throw away serviceable ‘stuff’. The sea population is gradually being infested with the residues that are a necessary spin off from this churning gurning world.  And one day that will come back to haunt us. But will anyone do anything about it? Is there anyone with the time, energy, money and capacity to care? Will the climate conference this year in Glasgow make a difference? In my view, while the world is dominated by nations and nations states that are in constant competition with each other, the answer is probably not quickly enough. If we can’t have perspective over the immediate need to vaccinate the vulnerable around the world in the midst of a real, terrifying pandemic , how confident are we that we will force up household bills to ensure we heat/cool our homes in ways that do not continue to add to the problem?

On the 27th January 1859 Frederick Wilhelm Victor Albert of Prussia was born. He was destined for greatness, the grandson of  Queen Victoria, the second in line to the German Empire. But he suffered at birth and that suffering led to an unhappy  childhood. By all accounts he blamed his mother and, by extension, the British. For many such an antipathy would mean nothing but for a man who would lead such a powerful group that was never going to be the case.

If you read about Wilhelm’s young life he was clearly bullied in ways unlikely to be tolerated today. He was, despite a severely withered arm forced to learn to ride, shoot, sword fight. It appears to have been a cruel lonely youth. It clearly traumatised him and led to certain personality traits developing. This young man was in charge of a powerful nation, one he and those behind him wanted to be better than other similar nations. That competition became conflict and he would eventually lead his nation into a bloody conflict that killed millions and shaped the world of the twentieth century and beyond.

Am I making too big a link between the self-centric world that crystallised post WW1 with, first, the League of Nations and then the UN as a supra national body reinforcing the dominance of the nation state and some cruel behaviour inflicted on a young man that was probably pretty common in the nineteenth century? Perhaps. Probably. The point is though that deliberately cruel behaviour, bullying behaviour especially directed at the young can have long term devastating consequences on not just the individual bullied but on a wider group that the individual concerned. And when those consequences impact not just at a domestic level, as bad as that is, the results may be truly horrific. And while we fight between ourselves rather than fight together it will stay that way.

But it doesn’t have to be thus. It doesn’t have to always end badly. Not only shouldn’t we tolerate bullying in our world but not in those micro ways that are commonplace. We shouldn’t stand by. Never. Call it out.

I watched with open-mouthed admiration the skateboarders. The skill, the dexterity, the courage, they were all present as in so many Olympic sports. But what stood out was the almost heart rending camaraderie between the competitors. They gloried in the others’ successes and commiserated their failures with genuine heartfelt compassion. It may not be unique but it seemed that way to me – you only had to watch the patent antipathy between the members of the Jamaican 100 metres team to know this fellow feeling is not universal, even inside teams let alone with other countries. The difference? In one case the competitors were mature adults, well versed in international competition and the cut throat nature of coming out on top; in the other the combatants were still children or at least only just teens, loving doing what they do for the essential joie de vivre. It meant everything and nothing.

This year the Olympic motto: higher, faster, stronger has had a fourth component added. Together.

Yes, if we did things together, even when striving to be the best rather than in a one eyed way, wouldn’t things be so much better? Easier? I don’t really do words of the year, but maybe mine, in a year when my family is to be intertwined with another should be ‘together’. After all if we allow such behaviour to pass, whether through indifference or in our name, we are part of the problem. Since Homo Sapiens became the dominant species on this little lump of rock, we have bullied our environment and each other. But bullies thrive in the dark corners, in the secret places.

Let’s find our inner child and work together on making it better.

PS I still want Team GB to win loads of medals…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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25 Responses to And It Makes You Wonder…

  1. willowdot21 says:

    I totally agree Geoff, I have been bullied, at school, at work , I hate bullying of my type, bullys are just inadequate creatures.
    I also want Team GB to Excell 💜💜💜💜


  2. Well said, Geoff. I’ll bet Dog wants a ton of medals too. (Maybe not)


  3. Wow Geoff, wow! A magnificent, well articulated, plain speaking and oh, so true post. I fear that mankind is destined to tip the balance so far that the world will reject us all, and I don’t mean that in any biblical, or apocalyptically sense. Unless wealth is distributed fairly then we cannot reasonably ask those, who are struggling daily, to stop using coal, gas, cheap food etc. I cannot see any situation that will persuade the rich and mega rich to give up any more than a very minuscule part of their wealth or lifestyle, and thus the cycle of excess and bullying on a major and institutional scale will continue. Thank goodness for dogs – we could all learn so much from them!


  4. Want to agree with you, Geoff! Thank you for mentioning and discussing this important topic. xx Michael


  5. trifflepudling says:

    I’m not sure if that stairway to heaven exists, but it’s always worth a try.


  6. petespringerauthor says:

    For us, on the other side of the pond, many of the events have already happened by the time we see them. In today’s era of quick information (which I love), I often already know the result. It’s hard for me to watch when I know what’s going to happen. Every Olympics seems to bring out some moments of amazing sportsmanship and equally bad behavior.


  7. KL Caley says:

    Great article. The world seems to bring out the “be kind” slogan when something bad happens then almost immediately forget it when there is something to nitpick on (who really cares who is knitting when). Love the picture. Dogs know how best to provide pure love and devotion. We could certainly learn a thing or two from being more like them. KL ❤️


  8. CARAMEL says:

    All this came from watching the skateboarding?

    Geoff, I read every word of your post, nodding in agreement.
    For all the “enlightenment” in various areas that seeks to “educate” people on respecting others legal freedoms and rights….there seems to be issues the world has no idea how to deal with, or so far, there seems to be little regulation and effective action against bullying, those who seem to exult in cruelty, or those who would seek to dominate over others, showing their power and feeling that that violence is vindicated. It’s a mess. I still like to think that the majority of people are good hearted and want peace and happiness and security for all….but some days the challenges to that seem to mount up.


  9. A splendidly thought-provoking post, Geoff. I have watched very little of the Olympics, but I did enjoy the way the young skateboarders revived the original spirit of the games which has, in so many other walks of life, been trampled on by Nations claiming individual glory; and the consequent funding priorities.

    Mind you, I’d settle for a win in the Test series.


  10. noelleg44 says:

    I loved this post, Greg. The Olympics have been poo-pooed by so many and yet they showed us of the unity of athletes from all the different countries and their humanity and support of each other. We could use and injection of this every year!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. JT Twissel says:

    Well put. Bullying should never be tolerated. Athletes don’t owe the country their lives or health.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jennie says:

    Beautifully articulated, Geoff. Here’s to the Olympics! Thank goodness they changed to to alternating summer and winter so viewers only have to wait every two years instead of four. I’ve been glued, since figure skating was all outdoors, shown on a small black and white television.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jennie says:

    I love your ‘Blimey-101’ lesson. Perhaps I will only use it with a target audience.

    Liked by 1 person

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