Wednesday, February 02, 2022



Mr Putin is amassing invasion-ready troops on the border with Ukraine—and simultaneously accusing the US administration of provoking a war as a pretext to impose economic sanctions against Russia.

This is classic bully behaviour: reframing the story, when they are stood up to, the bully insisting that they are the one being bullied. The narcissist, on being held to account, crying, ‘I am the victim of a witch-hunt against me!’

Politics (in the widest sense) is about power: including the power to do good; and—with the best of intentions—to cause unintended harm. And power is easily abused. Therefore, (well-intentioned, most often Left) political solutions to the problem of bullying produce systems that are susceptible for co-option by the bullies themselves. The very structures put in place to protect the vulnerable end up creating cover for the Übermensch.

I am currently enjoying watching the tv series Superman & Lois with my wife and our teenage son. In the pilot episode, Clark Kent, his wife Lois Lane, and their teenage sons Jonathan and Jordan Kent move from Metropolis to Smallville, the backwater Kentucky town where Clark grew up. Smallville needs them; but Clark and Lois recognise, their family needs Smallville as much as (perhaps more than) Smallville needs them. This family needs Smallville, and something that is found in Smallville, but that Metropolis lacks.

Superman and Clark Kent are not so much alter-egos as the same person in different spheres. Superman is saving the world; Clark is trying to be a father to teenagers.

One sphere is concerned with power—and, yes, how to exercise self-control, and build (or lose) trust, and be accountable, all of which a father needs to pass on to his sons, for the political sphere is a sphere of all our lives.

The other is concerned with covenant. With commitment to the common good of a group of people who have much that is not shared in common. People with different personalities, facing different challenges, having different values and aspirations, coming to different conclusions as to the best way forward—yet committed to one another.

Smallville has endured some hard times, but here there is still a civil society based not on power or expediency but on neighbourliness and free association. It is at risk, cannot be taken for granted; but, nonetheless, it is still there, in the fabric of the place.

If we hope to be the kind of society where bullying does not flourish, we won’t get there by legislation, which is not to say that legislation does not have its place, but that it has is limits. We will need a very different vocabulary, a different playbook. We will need to learn to be curious, to ask questions for clarification, to suggest ways forward held lightly and open to counter-suggestions, to negotiate compromises, to take time-out, forgive, ask for forgiveness, seek to bless, prefer others over our own interests. In such ways we build resilience and healthy esteem for ourselves and for others.

There is a strength to power. But there is a greater strength to vulnerability.


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