Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some thoughts on anti-bullying day...

I came across this quote from Mother Teresa on Facebook this morning. It seemed fitting, as today is Anti-bullying Day. One of the most devastating effects that bullying has on it's victims is the tragic, gradual acceptance of the bully's definition of the victim's self.

Adults struggle with this, in relationships with spouses, bosses, parents, siblings, and others. Days and weeks and months of being told that we are weak, useless, stupid, inferior, and worthy of continuous criticism and hate can begin to tear at our sense of who we are. If these relationships are not ones that we can easily escape, we try to cope the best we can and may not even realize that our confidence and hope are being gradually eroded.

If bullying is difficult for adults to cope with, how much harder is it for children who are being bullied? One of the things I have always struggled with is the use of the term "bullying" for acts that are clearly abusive and even criminal. If one child shoves another child into a locker, it is considered bullying. When an adult shoves an adult into something, it is assault.

Still, I recognize the value of the term "bullying" in that it highlights a specific kind of assault. As an adult, I have been bullied and I have been assaulted. Bullying refers to the insults, intimidation, threats of harm, verbal and emotional "punishments" for not complying to the bully's will, concerted efforts to create an environment of fear and discomfort, the effort to intimidate friends and family, etc.

Assaults are the physical attacks that are often a part of bullying. Being pushed, shoved, tripped, dragged, pinched, hit, punched, poked, and kicked. Death threats, threats to or destruction of pets or property, having things thrown at you, having a physical condition or disability exploited (for example, intentionally frightening someone who has anxiety or heart issues, in order to trigger an anxiety attack or angina),sexual assault, these things are all considered assault and are punishable under the criminal code.

The line is blurry, and we need to get better at seeing violence against children by other children as what it is - assault. We also need to ask ourselves why children are being violent like this.

Bullying is about intention. It is the intention to diminish the victim. I believe it what differentiates bullying from a regular conflict is a power inequality in the relationship.

Two people shouting insults at each other are having a fight. It may not be an appropriate way of dealing with things, and they may be attempting to diminish each other, but if they are equally involved, it is unhealthy and unpleasant, but not bullying.

One person threatening and demeaning another person who cannot escape, who cannot or will not fight back, is bullying. What often happens, and I think this may even be a distinguishing factor in bullying, is that if the victim finally does rise up and defend themselves, the bully uses the vicitm's defense as proof that the victim is also abusive, and that they deserve the physical, emotional and mental assault that they were enduring when they struck back.

This is different than what happens when two people get into an argument. Once apologies are being made, there is a consensus between the two that they both said things that were hurtful and unwise. There is a sense of responsibility for one's own actions even if the other person has also been rude or hurtful.

There is also an awareness that there are lines that must not be crossed in regular arguments, and when one is crossed, the offending party is aware of it and accepts responsiblity for it.

Bullies don't care about lines. In fact, they look for lines to cross, because their intention is to cause pain and once they get going, there are few limits. They are, on the other hand, very aware of their own lines, and will actually accuse their victim of cross lines that don't even exist.

I was told, once, by someone who kept trying to start debates with me on many different subjects, that because I was better at debating than he was, I was "destroying him with my words". When I suggested that if he wanted to continue having debates with me, he should "get better at it", he was horrified. I didn't even like debating. I tried to avoid it. He accused me of being abusive in my assertion that if he wanted to get to the point where he could beat me at a debate, he should work at it, gather more facts and improve his techniques. Or stop trying to start debates.

There is no question in my mind that his intention in debating me was to diminish me, and when my skill made that difficult, he chose another way of doing it, namely accusing me of something that he knew was against my heart's desire - abuse. If he was not smarter than me, then he was more moral that I was. Either way, I was supposed to be diminished. I refused him, on both counts.

Bullies draw lines for themselves that can leave their victims dazed and confused. It took me a while to figure out that there was nothing wrong with asking someone who wanted to debate me to improve their skills, stop pitching fits if I did well, or stop trying to start debates. He drew a line that made no logical sense, but he did it with so much emotion and tragic woundedness that he was even able to convince others that I was a wicked abuser.

These things apply to childhood abuse as well. The bully who routinely torments others becomes tragically victimized if they are accidently bumped up against in the hallway. The victim who talks back is believed to deserve all that they have received in the past as well as what is coming.

I have written before about the circle of support that often surrounds both children and adult bullies. They are surrounded by people who do not believe that the bully is capable of healthy, mature, moral behavior. They make excuses, they accept the lie that the victim that finally stands up to the bully deserves everything they have received, and they condone abuse directed at others that they would never allow for themselves or their own children.

So, today is anti-bullying day. Today is the day for us to say that we will be the circle of support and care for victims of bullies. We will stand up with them against violence and aggression. We will not let them be diminished. We will build them up, accept them, care for them, and in the process we build up ourselves as part of a community of safety and love. Today we recognise that no one else defines us but our God and ourselves. We make a conscious choice not to allow ourselves to be diminished, and with that, to not allow others to be diminished.

We choose to be the ones who surround victims with support and love, and who call bullies to a higher place. By saying no to bullying, we not only refuse to allow victims to be diminished, we also invite bullies to stop diminishing themselves with their behavior. No one is built up by bullying. Victims are wounded and scarred. Bullies remain emotionally fragile, volatile, unable to forge healthy, stable relationships. No one wins.

The time is now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

So, why the repost?

Yesterday I reposted a blog entry from last Spring, called Saving Jean-Luc. I was thinking of doing it anyway because this is the time of year when all those un-neutered pets link up with other un-neutered pets and start little families of their own. Families that owners have to deal with. The sad fact is, many owners deal with it by dropping those dear family pets and their off-spring onto some empty country road, mistakenly thinking that pets have what it takes to make it in the wild. They don't.

Jean-Luc's situation is an example of this. He is an example of another mistaken belief, that dropped-off animals will be taken in by people (okay, that part came true for Jean-Luc, but NOT for his mother, and many, many others) and that being dropped off doesn't affect them negatively.

This leads me to why I ultimately decided to repost the entry about Jean-Luc. The other day, we ran out of cat food. We usually have two bowls, one for Min-Min and one for Jean-Luc. One of the dishes was still 3/4 full when I went to bed, and the next morning I came downstairs to Jean-Luc finishing off what was left in that bowl. He left quite a few bits of kibble in the bowl, so he wasn't feeling hungry. But he was feeling anxious.

If you remember from Saving Jean-Luc, he went hungry for a week while he was out on his own as a young kitten. When we found him, he was very, very thin. He continues to have food issues, and after 10 months of adequate food, he still grows anxious when his food bowl is empty. He hasn't ever gone hungry since we found him, and I keep his food bowl full all of the time because I know it bothers him when it begins to get low.

He has ways of letting me know that it is bothering him. The morning that I got up and he had finished the food, he stood by the bowl, flipping it up by the edge with his paw and letting it fall back onto the floor while looking at me with large, anxious eyes. I knew that he wasn't hungry because there were still bits of food in the bowl. He wasn't interested in them. His anxiety wasn't caused by hunger. It was caused by a lack of access to food. He still doesn't trust that even when the bowl is empty, when he is hungry there will be food there for him.

This makes me sad. I know that Jean-Luc lives a charmed life now. He is petted and fawned over, and has taken up an inordinate amount of space on my blog. Still, after 10 months, he hasn't recovered from one week of being lost and alone, starving in the wild.

On the scale of world issues, Jean-Luc's anxieties are beyond minor. I know this. I love animals, but I love people more. This is truly a "first world problem". Still, it is something to think about. Something to be aware of.

Pet ownership responsibility begins before the pet enters our homes. If we can't afford to spay or neuter our pets, we can't afford to have them. Or if we do have them, we are responsible to keep them away from other unspayed and neutered animals. We are responsible. Even when it's a hassle. Even when it is hard. If we do slip up and we end up with a pregnant female, it is our slip up, not hers. So we are responsible to deal with her in a way that is the least damaging to the mother or her babies.

Ultimately, the message is, think. Think about consequences, about responsibilities, about possible problems. I may post a gazillion pictures of cute, furry kittens on my Facebook profile page, but cute and furry is not a reason to get a pet. Are you lonely? Honestly make sure that your sense of responsiblity and commitment to a pet will equal your loneliness, because as much comfort as a fur friend can be, there will still be vet bills, behavioral issues, and the work that is involved in the proper care of pets.

In the end, we need to get past our desires for cute, fluffy, companionship and attention. We need to get practical.

We need to just think.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reposted Blog Entry - Saving Jean-Luc

I was debating reposting a blog entry that I had written for The Chicken Diaries from last Spring, about how Jean-Luc came to be ours. Then something happened yesterday that convinced me there were issues in the entry that were worth bringing up again. Since Saving Jean-Luc is already so long, I'll write about what helped me make up my mind tomorrow. For now, here's Jean-Luc....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saving Jean-Luc

It has been a long time since I have updated this blog, I know. I'm not really sure why, but I do know that once time starts to go by and blog-worthy incidents build up in life, it becomes difficult to know where to start.

Tonight something happened that I immediately realized is the perfect place to start. Marc and I had gone for a walk down the lane, and as we returned we heard plaintive mewing coming from the baler in front of the house. A week ago, I had found a young cat dead at the end of the lane. I assumed that she had been hit by a car. I was sad, and because I suspected that she had been dropped off by someone who didn't want her anymore, I was angry. I moved her to the side of the lane. She was lovely, silky black with a sweet young face.

Later that day, Marc saw a young grey kitten at the end of the lane near where I had place the young female. The kitten was so frightened, he actually jumped into the water in the ditch and got away. Tonight that little grey kitten had hidden himself away in the baler. Mini and Toby, the dogs, had spent much of the day digging up the wet ground underneath the baler trying to get at the kitten. We saw the results of the digging, but we thought they may have been trying to catch a chipmunk or something like that. Then we heard the kitten crying.

We slipped into rubber boots, and filled a bowl with cat food. It took less than a minute for me to lure the poor little guy out to eat. He was very thin, but otherwise in good condition. We brought him in and he ate desperately for several minutes. Now, as Marc watches a documentary on snipers and I type this, the kitten is crawling all over us on the couch, a bright, curious, purring grey baby.

We decided that, tentatively, we are going to call him Jean-Luc, for Jean-Luc Picard, the captain the the Enterprise in Star Trek, The Next Generation television show. After watching the little guy stand up to Mini and Toby when we introduced them, given the fact that they had most likely terrorizing him all afternoon, I'm thinking that he is going to live up to his name.

It is a cruel and brutal thing, to leave animals alone and uncared for in the country when they are no longer wanted. The idea that they will simply hunt and take care of themselves is false. Left at the side of the road, the animals are often killed by passing cars. What is worse, they are also often wounded by cars and left to suffer and die slowly because there is no one to care for them. They are unfamiliar with the danger of traffic, not to mention wild animals,farm yard dogs, hunger and disease. Dropping off mothers with babies is especially cruel. Cats and dogs are not wild animals. Their young aren't able to keep safely hidden while their mothers hunt for food. If anything happens to the mother, as in JL's case, the young are left helpless, unable to find food, and vulnerable to weather, wild animals and disease. I had placed some food in a bowl at the end of the lane near JL's mother in hopes that he would come back to his mother's body, and so he was able to have a bit of food. It wasn't enough, though. He wandered in the ditch and fields for a week, hungry, alone and frightened. The very thought of this makes me sad. And angry.

Owning animals is a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. It's not rocket science. If we don't already know what our new pet will need from us before we get them, the internet provides endless sources of information. When circumstances dictate that we can no longer look after our animals, we need to seek out options that do not leave our pets in danger. What we should never do is just dump them like trash on the side of the road, thinking that someone else will take care of them. It is rare that discarded animals find caring homes, and even if they do, they suffer terribly before they are rescued.

At this moment, little JL is curled upon Marc's chest, purring as he slowly falls asleep. Tonight he is safe.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day ~ A Day to Love

"He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me" 2 Samuel 22:20

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. The day for lovers. And here I am, without a lover. What is a girl to do?

I have already made my decision. Valentine's Day is a day for love, and for most of my life, even though I have sought to show my love to others, I have also been most interested in how much love comes my way. Not this year, though.

This past year has been really difficult, and as a follower of Jesus I have had the absolute joy of seeing God's love for me in new and wonderful ways. He is a Father to the fatherless, a Husband to the husbandless, a Lover to those who need abundant amounts of love. I have no doubt that I have been rescued, but to think that God rescues me out of His delight in me! His Delight! How utterly and wildly amazing is that?!

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, unloved. I am now, more than ever, surrounded by people who love me. It is as if God has matched every angry, hate-filled attack with a hundred offerings of love, support and encouragement. As Valentine's Day approaches, I find that there is no crevice for self-pity to creep into, no ledge for it to rest, no home for it in my heart.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It is a day for love. My prayer, is that as one who the Lord has rescued out of sheer delight for my presence in His heart, I will spend tomorrow loving others as I am loved. I'm not even sure what that means, but God knows. I have asked God to give me opportunity after opportunity to show love to others, to delight in their presence in my life, to enjoy the people I meet.

I'm trusting God to fill in the details. I'm thinking chocolate will most likely be involved. I'm okay with that. :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Have I got issues?

Okay, so you know you have failure issues when you are agonizing over not doing well on a test for a class that you are not even officially taking!


This semester, I only have one class, a humanities class called Knowledge and the Media. The other students are taking French classes, and I have requested to be able to sit in on one of them because even though I don't need the credits, I absolutely need to improve my French.

Our teacher, Guillaume, is a very nice guy who has offered to grade my papers and tests as if I was registered in the class. After all, what is the point of doing the work without feedback? Which I truly appreciate, because he doesn't have to do this for me.

Today, we had a test, which essentially was an essay on a pre-selected subject with advanced preparation, and then written in class. Get out those French dictionaries and Bescherelles, folks! I prepared for my essay, took notes on my subject (Canadian chef, Michael Smith), and even wrote out a couple of practice essays. When I got to class and wrote the paper, though, I realized that I did not have enough words (and we only needed 250! How un-like me is that?!) and I didn't have enough info on my subject. It just didn't feel like enough.

We had two and a half hours to do the essay, and I was finished in a fraction of the time, partly because I had previously written and re-written my essay, and partly because I was being cheap on words. And I didn't have any more information to add to what I had done.

When I handed it in, I just felt this sick sense of not meeting the mark. I'm pretty sure I didn't do as well as I could have. And the thought of that still makes me feel a little ill.

The sad part is, it really doesn't matter. My mark is not official. I simply cannot fail this thing, because for me it was essentially just an exercise, not a real test.

I appreciate the desire to do well, but I've been home for over an hour and a half and it is still bothering me. I don't know what I think is going to happen if I mess this up. I know that nothing official will happen. I recognize that I am in the class in the first place because I need help, and so it is not outside the realm of possibility that I may not ace every test I take.

I don't really know why I feel so weird about not doing well at this. I've made it a life goal to learn how to be successfully mediocre at certain things. Bowling, for example. Personally, I think graceful mediocrity is a valuable life skill. Without it, I wouldn't be able to sing, play mini-golf, bake cakes, or train cats. Or, apparently, speak and write French.

I guess it is probably just my pride whining at me. It would be easier to stick to the things I do well, wouldn't it? But seriously, how much fun would that be?

Eh bien...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Laughter in the Dark

Last night I went to a videoconferencing seminar on laughter. The presenter was Albert Nerenberg, a Montreal Gazette columnist, film-maker and Laughologist. It was a great experience. We learned the benefits of laughter on the body, spirit and mind, as well as ways to increase our laughter-quotient every day. And yes, we laughed. A lot.

During the course of the evening, I realized that we laugh a lot in our home. Grace and I crack each other up on a regular basis. I realized, while listening to our speaker, that laughter has played a large part in how I have gotten through the past year. My prayer, when things are really hard, is always that God would help me not to be afraid. I pray that He would help me to trust Him, as I make choices daily to believe that He knows my needs and will see that they are met. In a way, laughter is evidence that God has honored my prayer. Where there is fear, gut-wrenching, life-consuming anxiety, there is no laughter. The funny stories I tell about life around here? They are proof that God is keeping my eyes pointed upwards, to Him, and because of this I can see the wonderful, unique, silly things in life that make me laugh.

You have probably noticed that one of the funniest things in my life is Jean-Luc. At less than a year old, he alternates between wild, frantic energy and cool, feline distain, with periods of endearing devotion to make it all worthwhile. His world revolves around us, and as much as we like to tease him, he sees us as a vital part of his world. Which makes for some pretty funny situations.

Last night, when I was in bed waiting for sleep, I thought of an incident that happened before Mum died. It was probably less that 2 weeks before her death. I received a very painful phone call from a loved one who had decided that it was a good time to tell me exactly how much of a screw up I was, and how I deserved some of the terrible things that had happened to me. I was devastated. It was like having old wounds ripped open again, and then added to. I literally had to hang up the phone to stop the ugly words that were pouring into my heart.

I was feeling fragile, anyway, because at that point in my mum's illness, it was becoming clear that she was not going to recover. The phone call ripped my heart out, in a pacing, hand-shaking, anxious, helpless way. Just after I hung up the phone, I received a phone call with news that Mum had taken a turn for the worst and was becoming incoherent. It was feared that if I did not go see her the next day, she might not remember who I was. Mum was in Ottawa at this point, so I made plans to go to my sister's place in Longue Sault that evening, and we would head to Ottawa the next day. I hung up the phone. Then I fell apart.

I went up to my room, sat on my bed, and howled. I felt as if my body could not contain the amount of pain that I was feeling. I wanted to scream, to bang my head on the wall, to do something, anything that would make the pain go away. I sat on the bed with my face in my hands, rocking back and forth crying hysterically. I was vaguely aware that Jean-Luc had come into the room and was on the bed with me. He meowed at me, and I knew that he was distressed, presumably by my crying. I couldn't stop, certainly not for the cat. He moved closer to me and meowed again. I ignored him, still only vaguely aware that he was there.

Then his front paws were on my leg, and he was trying to crawl into my lap. Cats do not like being ignored. I pushed him off, back onto the bed. Jean-Luc apparently decided enough was enough. In the midst of my crumpled, miserable sobbing, I felt him hit me several times across the head, in quick succession. I pushed him away and cried harder. Then, meowing, he did it again. Bang, bang, bang. In the midst of my pain, it occurred to me that my cat was hitting me upside the head in an effort to shut me up.

I lifted my head and looked at him. He was standing beside me, and I'm pretty sure that he was frowning. I know that he was ready to do it again if I didn't stop. It suddenly struck me as funny. And I laughed. It was a choked, sobbish kind of laugh, but it was a laugh. I scooped Jean-Luc up, buried my face in his fur and weepily laughed until he started twisting out of my grasp. Apparently, he wasn't THAT invested in my emotional state. Just shut up, fercryingoutloud!

And life goes on. I managed to get myself ready for an over-night in Longue Sault. I drove to my sister's place, shared my relationship woes with her and was lovingly comforted, and when we got to the hospital in Ottawa to see Mum, she had rallied around and was doing much better. While the coming weeks would bring much more sorrow and a few more phone calls, I wouldn't find myself in that place of desperate, wounded hysteria again. I don't know if it was the laughter than made the difference. Or the thought of Jean-Luc's very stern, "Pull yourself together, woman!" Whatever it was, it saved me in a very real way.

Laughter born from the silly, the endearing, the joyful, is a very clear signal to the darkness that we are not afraid. I may be sad, but I am not afraid. I may be in need, in a corner, even wounded. But I am not afraid. Laughter says, it may be dark in here, but I am not alone. God is here.

Besides, I have a feeling that if it happens again, Jean-Luc may bring out the claws. Okay, so maybe I'm a little afraid...
My Zimbio