Tuesday 21 May 2019

Hanging with the hard men


Stock photo
Stock photo
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It's never a good idea to try to be something you're not to fit in with the hard men.

Bullies come in many forms. They are rarely as obvious or straightforward as some guy who punches you in the face and takes your lunch money.

One of the most insidious bullies is the guy who keeps asserting you are friends. He won't ask you for your input on this, he will just declare you are friends. It can be very destabilising for the bullied person, because on one hand they're thinking, "hang on, we're not friends". But on another hand they're slightly relieved at this acceptance by the bully - almost grateful. It might mean less trouble. And then, on a third hand, the bullied person hates themselves for that, for being pathetically grateful that the bully is showing favour. It's a complex business being subtly bullied.

And then there can be those situations where the bully is being matey, and saying he's your friend, while all the time performing subtle microaggressions that are just too vague to call him on - the slightly aggressive edge to the 'banter'; the fact that he controls the conversation, sucking up all the energy in the room, blow-holing on with fake benevolence, while you feel your power drain. And you hate yourself for that too, for giving the bully the power. You blame yourself.

You know you're smarter than him, and you know that everyone is only playing along with him out of politeness, or because he is the most powerful man in the room, but it eats away at you. You feel emasculated. The bully keeps running the show, keeps calling the shots, keeps blathering on with his idiot pronouncements, without even the self awareness to feel awkward. Somehow you and everyone else are the ones left feeling awkward, while the bully blathers on blissfully unaware. Or is he unaware? Is it all tricks? The way he takes control of the handshake to destabilise you physically, to take physical control with a gesture that is masked in bonhomie. The way he doesn't listen to you, or ignores what you say, or gives vague, generic responses, as if you are just tiresome.

And all the while you find yourself being less yourself. You end up saying stupid, boring, inane things to try to keep things going. And he just looks through you or past you and keeps up his own parallel conversation.

So you walk out of the situation, feeling slightly humiliated, but you dust yourself off. You just want to go home, but there are more situations to be dealt with. So you decide you can be one of the lads, you can be a hard man too. You are by nature quite thoughtful and sensitive, maybe even nerdy. But that's gone out the window. You can be one of the lads too, and tell stories about your casual approach to the whole politics thing, about how you get things done. You have power too.

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