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The casual cruelty of children (and adults)

12/11/2014

When I was in infants’ school (junior primary – ages 4 to 7) we played an unusual variation of schoolyard tag. When you were tagged you weren’t ‘it’, you were ‘Millsey’. All the other kids would run from you crying “He’s got Millsey germs!”.

At first I thought Millsey was some kind of disease, but a friend with an older brother set me straight. ‘Millsey’ was Donna Mills, a former student who was frequently ill and constantly persecuted for it. Although she had gone on to high school years earlier her pariah status had become part of the culture of Ettalong Primary School and her ostracism continued in absentia.

I was pretty perturbed when I discovered the truth. I’m an allergy sufferer myself and was sometimes teased or excluded by my classmates when I was sick and most needing sympathy. I became even more uncomfortable when I discovered Donna Mills had a younger brother, Stephen, who still attended our school and would have seen children chasing each other around the playground screaming “Millsey germs! Millsey germs!”.

After speaking to my dad about it I adopted his suggestion. Now when I played tag instead of yelling out “You’re Millsey!” I  shouted “You’re Smelly Kelly!” or “You’re Stinky Pinky!”. Some other kids took up my chants and everything seemed to be working fine until a girl named Kelly Newmark joined our class. Sigh.

You might think that meant I was consistently against bullying as a child, but if so you’d be wrong. I often joined in verbal bullying sessions even though I knew it hurt the victims and usually made me feel bad. Why? Because I too was a regular victim of bullying and was afraid that if attention wasn’t focused elsewhere it could all too easily come to rest on me instead.

All of that changed when I was a twelve year old Boy Scout attending a Jamboree at Woodhouse in South Australia.

One of the scouts who shared our tent was a mildly intellectually handicapped boy named Gordon Moray. I’d never met him before but from the behaviour of some of the other scouts from his troop I soon learned there was a tradition of teasing and playing practical jokes on him. So I joined in. One afternoon I came across Gordon hiding in a carpark, sobbing. I tried to offer sympathy but was immediately rejected. It was plain he thought I was laying some kind of trap in order to humiliate him again. That cut me to the quick and I have never knowingly joined a bullying session since.

Over forty years later I still feel the bite of shame when I look back upon my youthful cruelty.

But surely there’s no point in regretting my past behaviour. It’s not as if I can change it now. Besides, the middle aged me is an entirely different person to the nasty, cowardly child who joined with the mob to pick on the weak.

Or maybe not.

I see a lot of casual cruelty from young and old directed against the less fortunate. Refugees, the disabled, convicted or accused criminals, members of racial, sexual or cultural minority groups, ‘bogans‘  … anyone who stands out and is unable to effectively retaliate. Often the bullies rationalise their cruelty in ways no more sophisticated than the five year olds who ran away from ‘Millsey germs’. The weak are characterised as a threat while privileged groups who are more likely to be a real danger are allowed to go unmolested. They can fight back, after all.

I think as long as my shame stays with me I will be sensitive to bullying. Much of my adult life has been dedicated to activism against the persecution of the weak and I hope I have not found new rationalisations to hide my own cruelty from myself. I guess I’m in no position to judge how successful I’ve been though. Maybe I now justify my bullying by characterising my victims as bullies.

Perhaps the real lesson is that there is no ‘other’. Can we only recognise faults that also exist in ourselves? Maybe criticism, cruelty and bullying are always strategies for redirecting jibes that might just as easily be directed towards us.

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From → autobiography, hurts

31 Comments
  1. Lisa H permalink

    “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
    ―Kurt Vonnegut

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had no idea you were a Vonnegut fan Lisa.
      Wasn’t he great.

      My fave is one of his earliest, The Sirens of Titan.

      Like

  2. Lisa H permalink

    I confess I have yet to read any of his work. I have read a lot about him though, and his mate Sidney Offit. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is in my short list of books but I might take a look at The Sirens of Titan too!

    Like

  3. The classic is his semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse Five in which the hero, Billy Pilgrim, is an infantry scout captured by the Germans during the second Ardennes offensive and is in an underground Dresden slaughterhouse when the Allies firebombed the place to a cinder. Vonnegut’s wartime experiences were essentially the same, right down to the numerical designation of the slaughterhouse his POW slave labour group was interned in.

    If you can’t find time for the book there’s also a movie, though naturally it’s not as good.

    Like

  4. Dead Ned's Head permalink

    As me old mate Chopper used to say, “you’ve gotta harden the fuck up!”

    How much of what you are appropriating a personal responsibility for, is – in reality –
    ya garden variety aussie core personality, ANZAC cookie-cutter?

    D’ya reckon Vonnegut got a kick-back from Skin & Cancer Foundation Aus.. for his
    sunscreen speech?

    We were not raised in a biopsychosocial culture that values compassion.
    Tall poppy syndrome came out with the First Fleet.

    And…..why do you attribute to Gordon Moray, that mildly intellectually handicapped
    boy, this analysis of his rebuff of your attempt to offer sympathy: “It was plain he
    thought I was laying some kind of trap in order to humiliate him again”.

    Maybe Gordy did not think anything of the kind. Gawd knows the intellectually
    handicapped just lubs it when the “Norms” put thoughts in their head!

    I reckon the hardcore bullies are hiding behind their Social Work degrees…
    I predict major anarchy starting January 2015. Lock and load, dude.

    Like

    • Yeah, bullying is as Aussie as footie team gang rape, gristle & slime in pastry, dumb-arsed marsupials and locally made rustbuckets. But not every Australian can surf and not all of them bash poofters either. I don’t drink VB or bet on the Melbourne Cup so why should I roam around in a gang looking for wogs to abuse?

      why do you attribute to Gordon Moray, that mildly intellectually handicapped boy, this analysis of his rebuff of your attempt to offer sympathy:

      Because he didn’t just say “No thanks and fuck off”. He was scared of me. And I can’t think what reason he had for that except the ones I’d given him over previous days.

      I reckon the hardcore bullies are hiding behind their Social Work degrees…

      … or their psychiatry practices.

      I once saw an SBS short film where a retarded kid who was kept locked up by his folks all day sneaked out at night to join the abos and derros in the local park where he was treated as just one of the mob. The terror came when the Mission Beat van pulled up and middle aged women in flowery frocks charged out crying “We’re here to help you!”.

      Like

      • Dead Ned's Head permalink

        Oi! What’s with ragging on marsupials? Most of the dumb-arsed creatures I
        have ever met were Taswegians.

        It’s an obscure fact that Mama Cass inspired the frocks Mission
        Beat Matrons wore. Bleeding seventies have so much to answer for.

        What I find really scary is that Eddie Everywhere is the leader of the latest
        baying pack of hypocritical bully-boys – after he accumulated his wealth
        from pinching the lunch-money from the smaller kids.

        Amazing how the shit shifts shape.

        Like

        • Hey! Lay off the Tazzers! Inbreeding’s not a joke, it’s a tragedy!

          I first realised how moronic kangaroos are when Sonny got marooned in the bush after accidentally tying his feet together trying to do up his shoe laces. While going for help Skippy hops straight past the park helicopter – all fueled up and ready to go – to search for that useless ranger instead, thus wasting precious minutes Sonny could have used to get kidnapped by Greek speaking Russian spies secretly building an ICBM base in Waratah National Park.

          In another episode when Skip’s doing Sonny’s homework while he sleeps off a wattle snorting binge you can see over her shoulder that she’s incorporating Euclidean assumptions about the geometry of space-time that were rendered invalid by the General Theory of Relativity half a century earlier!.

          Stupid, stupid roo!

          Did you know that before she entered politics Margaret Thatcher was already stealing ice-cream from children?
          She was one of the team of industrial chemists that developed the whipping technique that means half of the ice-cream in the container is now air. Probably the fact she was known for innovative whipping helped her get Tory preselection.
          And as soon as she was made Education Minister she stole the milk from their mouths by abolishing the free school milk program. Clearly a woman destined for high office.

          Like

        • Dead Ned's Head permalink

          So Maggie was into Secret Dairy Queen Business before she was whipping
          pale bespectacled Torys wearing widowmaker corsets

          Didja know that Fred West backed over someone else’s kid with his Mr Whippy van in
          a Gorbals housing estate before he was burying his own kids under the patio?

          It’s official!!! Ice-cream is evil!!!!!!!!

          Skippy the bush kangaroota! Were we not just immersed in totem animals
          as little tackers?

          Skippy, Humphrey, Joffa Boy….

          Like

        • Skippy, Humphrey, Joffa Boy….

          I used to think Humphrey was scary, but that’s before I met the middle aged gay junkie who was one of the dudes in the were-bear suit. He was a funny old fellow.

          But it was Owly’s School that really creeped me out. I reckon my pupaphobia is one of the reasons my Mum became a ventriloquist. As a kid I could sit through Hitchcock or George Romero without flinching but when The Thunderbirds came on I’d be hiding behind the lounge.

          Like

        • Dead Ned's Head permalink

          I met Humphrey at the Southern Cross in the 70s; the suit ponged like
          1000 dead old-man farts in a Toorak-road doss house…

          How didja cope with Mr Squiggle then? I reckon they should revamp
          that and give Ms Pat a Ryobi woodchipper to fire up every time Squiggs
          gives her some schtick.

          I am so jealous that your mum is the monkey lady, I only got Bipolar
          Mum and she didn’t even knit me a monkey!

          boo hoo

          Like

        • Yeah, well from what I’ve heard about the sauna-suit under studio lights it would have been odd if it didn’t stink. That puddle you can see under Humphrey sometimes isn’t because they never litter trained him you know.

          How didja cope with Mr Squiggle then?

          Easily. As soon as I heard the theme song I’d run screaming from the house and hide behind a nearby white ant nest.

          I reckon they should revamp that and give Ms Pat a Ryobi woodchipper to fire up every time Squiggs gives her some schtick.

          Too good for him. I vote for Death By A Thousand Pencil Sharpenings. His nose would look like Michael Jackson’s before I’d finished with him.

          I am so jealous that your mum is the monkey lady, I only got Bipolar Mum and she didn’t even knit me a monkey!

          1980s graffiti in Kings Cross railway station:
          “My mother made me a poofter”.
          And under it:
          “If I gave her the wool would she make me one too?”.

          I got Asperger’s Mum and Bipolar Grandma. Both were careful to ensure their favourite descendant enjoyed the full benefit of his heritage. My arrogance and fondness for delusional belief systems came from my Randian Dad.

          But it’s my Mum’s brother who gave me the most important lessons in life.

          1) If there’s something wrong with you it’s the fault of your parents for not presenting you with a trophy every time you shat in the dunny instead of your duds. You need to sack them, change your surname to something wanky and adopt a couple of dead CIA cult brainwashers as replacements.

          2) If you truly want to be a writer – despite having no talent, training nor anything worthwhile to say – and you work hard at it year after year, ignoring the naysayers and deeply and sincerely believing it will happen; you’re a gig.

          Like

        • Is that “Randian” as in Prince Randian aka the Human Torso
          aka The Snake Man?

          Knew there was a naga in this saga…

          I must knit this chappy a muff…

          You know, it warms the cockles of my heart that you care so
          much for your dear deluded uncle that you want to share your
          Troll with him…..

          *tee hee*

          Like

        • Dead Ned's Head permalink

          “For most, I regret to say, they will have to follow the path of the knotted silk cord. In other words, they will inevitably inherit wrong-minded attitudes; make mistakes, wrong choices and decisions and suffer painful consequences……and when their tolerance for self-afflicted pain becomes too much, they’ll be ready to receive wake-up calls and will have the opportunity to turn their lives around and untie those knots, if they so choose.”

          That is straight out of 17th century pommy witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins’ treatise,
          ‘The Discovery of Witches’.

          I like how he hides his seething contempt for females under the bushel of
          ACIM.

          Dangerously self-deluded.

          Like

        • Oh, I don’t know he’s any more misogynist than I am (which gets a little worse with every comment you make) but he’s very resentful towards anyone who has hurt his ego and a lot of those people have been women.

          I think the ACIM emphasis on forgiveness would be good for him if it wasn’t for the way that forgiveness under ACIM doesn’t come from the humility of realising you are as flawed as those you resent and the resentment is yours, not theirs. Rather it’s something you generously and ostentatiously bestow upon your spiritual inferiors to show how advanced you are.

          BTW, I don’t think he’s proposing garroting heathens with a silken cord. It’s some kind of messed up metaphor he uses for those as yet unenlightened by ACIM. He thinks it comes from Buddhism but it doesn’t.

          Like

        • Besides, you give him too much credit. He’s not self-deluded. He’s been trained by experts.

          It’s not really the 60s vintage spook mind-control that bugs me about ACIM. It’s not even as sophisticated as what they teach in business school these days (Gittinger’s PAS is now used as a HR management tool). And it’s not so much the appalling quality of writing in the manual either. It’s the misrepresentation of itself as non-dualist metaphysics, goddamn it. It brings the whole non-dualism brand into disrepute.

          Like

        • Dead Ned's Head permalink

          ~~Oh, I don’t know he’s any more misogynist than I am (which gets a little worse with every comment you make)~~

          No problem, every comment I make, I am that little bit less of a misandrist.

          Been a while since I cracked the cover of ACIM but I have a sinking feeling
          that it’s central dogma infiltrated Star Trek canon and Dr Spock was its
          poster-child.

          Non-dualist metaphysics? Ah, those were the days, my friend, when quantum
          physics was in Snuggies.. As a jaded Jade, I accept the immortal wisdom
          of the Great Gondwana Guru, Graeme, “ego is not a dirty word”.

          While I avoided the cage of ACIM, I did trip over the liana vine of attudinal healing
          (Jampolsky) and *cringe* – the meetings were held in Balwyn.

          I think I shall decamp to the Northern Rivers, join universal medicine and
          just get it over with…..I haz cult-cooties!!!! I’m a goner…..

          …….save yourself!

          Like

        • While I avoided the cage of ACIM, I did trip over the liana vine of attudinal healing

          I’ve picked up a lot of Buddhist and neo-Advaitist stuff over the years but I can’t say I’ve ever bought into magicalism or witchdoctors (especially psychiatrists).

          I’m not much of a joiner so I’ve never been tempted by cults but I have always been fascinated by them. Cults, sharks and poisonous snakes.

          I’m grateful to Don for drawing ACIM to my attention actually. A particularly lurid specimen for my collection. Up until then I’d thought Jello Biafra’s claims that the CIA was behind the New Age movement was just a bit of hippie bashing rhetoric.

          Like

      • Dead Ned's Head permalink

        PS: Fadda Benedict Groeschel died on Oct 3 2014. He was the chap who
        was deeply critical of ACIM.

        Like

        • A funny guy, Father B.

          He was a psychology student of Thetford’s and one of the first ACIM supporters, which is kinda odd for a Catholic priest as ACIM’s not exactly compatible with Catholic doctrine. Unless I missed the Bull declaring Jesus to be a New Age lamebrain.

          As far as I can tell he turned on Thetford and his cult after the MKULTRA shit hit the fan at the Church Commission. Seems he was a bit tetchy at discovering his beloved teacher was a professional CIA brainwasher.

          Helen Schucman kissed off Thetford and his cronies at about the same time which makes me think she only discovered she’d been working for the CIA through Congress and the media. Groeschel stuck by her until she died a lingering, painful and psychotic death of pancreatic cancer a few years later. I think he converted her to Catholicism near the end, though she’d been toying with it for much of her life.

          A lot of ACIMmers are somewhat aware of Thetford’s career, though they have all sorts of twisted rationalisations for it of course. But none of them seem to wonder at the fact that Jesus’ chosen ‘scribe’ ended up so thoroughly messed up and so bitter about ACIM. They actually celebrate Thetford’s heavy handed inducement of Stockholm Syndrome in Schucman as ‘The Invitation’.

          I reckon ACIM is part of Thetford’s longstanding work at weaponising the Gittinger Personality Assessment System. It seems targeted pretty tightly at people who PAS would assess as looking outwards for authority and self-validation and who equate learning with understanding (i.e. what it calls “regulated externalisers”). So that puts my Uncle Don right in the cross-hairs.

          From what I’ve heard Groeschel went on to become a high rating conservative multimedia priest. His main claim to fame was his condemnation of predatory pre-pubescent boys for their sexual abuse of vulnerable Catholic priests.

          Like

        • The dark Mother
          Is flying a kite
          In the world’s fairground.

          O, mind, see – you are up there
          In the gusts of hope,
          Payed out on the string of illusion,
          Your frame strung together
          Skeleton and pulse stuck on.

          But the maker overdid it,
          Giving the kite too much ego
          In the building,
          Toughening the string with glue
          And powdered glass.

          So Mother, if out of a thousand kites
          You lose one or two,
          Laugh and clap.

          Prasad says: that kite is going to take off
          In the southern breeze,
          And on the other shore
          Of this ocean of lives
          It will dive fast to its freedom.

          ~ Ramprasad Sen
          from “Grace & Mercy in Her Wild Hare: selected
          poems to the Mother Goddes” (1999)

          Liked by 1 person

    • I never met Chopper but I wonder what he would have thought of the bent, violent NSW cop (excuse the tautology) Aarne Tees.

      Tees was one of Rogo’s mates and was considered one of the hard men of the force, but when he was dying of cancer he gave his wife a long list of people he’d fucked over during his career along with a little speech he’d written. She and a couple of his ex-copper mates spent the next few years tracking them down to offer his abject apologies. Probably thought it’d help him out if he couldn’t threaten or bribe St Peter.

      Like

      • Dead Ned's Head permalink

        Chopper said that Tees’ missus always was a street-walker.

        Like

  5. ‘Australia was the place to be,’ writes Hunt with tongue firmly in cheek. ‘Unless you were black. Or a woman. Or gay. Or suspected of being Irish. Or even worse, all of the above.’

    http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=42148

    Like

  6. Dr Spock was its poster-child.

    You may be more right than you know there.

    Schucman was essentially a failed pediatric psychologist specialising in juvenile conversion hysteria when Thetford elevated her to CIA guinea pig status. Benjie Spock (who is probably responsible for more infant deaths than anyone else in the 20th Century due to his advice to sleep them on their bellies) was all the rage back then and a fair bit of ACIM ‘wisdom’ on happy relationships reads like some of Spock’s aphorisms. It was after starting on ACIM in the early 90s than my uncle got the notion he was an abused child because his parents didn’t constantly tell him he was the most wonderful thing in the world, as per Spock’s advice.

    Like

    • Dead Ned's Head permalink

      Hmm….my youngest auntie/other mum lost a child to cot death and
      that insight into the insidiousness of the advice Spock was
      spruiking just flew a kite.

      Namaste.

      Like

  7. you care so
    much for your dear deluded uncle that you want to share your
    Troll with him…..

    Well, you did ask if you could be my troll.
    You practically applied for the vacancy.
    And was graciously accepted.

    I’d assume you’d offer my uncle similar courtesy immediately upon invading his cyberspace.
    It’s just good manners.

    Like

    • Dead Ned's Head permalink

      Nah, your uncle isn’t crunchy enough….besides my septugenarian
      dance card is full at the mo..

      I have two 70-something male neighbours raging against the
      dying of the light. They are wonderfully bitter. Haven’t crawled up their
      own rectums with a flashlight, or are tormenting themselves with sugar-plum
      fairy fantasias of forgiving any woman whose bearded clam went
      for their hip pocket…

      Accidentally stepped into a steaming pile of reiki maetros the other month who
      gushed how I was *gag* holding the light.

      Uh-nuh…

      What I am holding is sharp, serrated and shiny – occasionally it catches the light.

      Like

  8. The dark Mother
    Is flying a kite …

    Yeah, She would have a kite like that.

    But what’s this “too much ego” stuff?
    She likes Her kites to have plenty of ego.
    She likes to watch them burn.

    Like

  9. For your cult collection: The Continuum Concept
    Invented by Jean Liedloff in the 70s.

    Back to a Star Trek reference with the Q-tip Continuum…

    I’ll troll off now. My binge has worn off

    Like

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