Bully For You
By Tammie Ortlieb
I attended a workshop recently on bullying. The speaker suggested that the typical bully doesn’t have very high self-esteem. There is something about himself that he is not quite “ok” with. Thus, the need to pick at others is in order to build up his ego. I came away from the workshop with something different than what I had intended.
How such a session could send me off thinking about vegetarianism, I don’t know. The words somehow connected in my mind with family dinners around the holidays. Adults can be bullies, too, you know. And you know who they are. Then I start wondering why supposed grown ups feel the need to point fingers at children and badger them about where do you get your protein, what about calcium, and how in the world do you ever expect to play sports without red meat? Here eat a bite of steak, just a little bite.
Only, this time my mind wasn’t exactly on this kind of bully. I remember the day (pre-vegetarian day) my family and I were at a friend’s house. We were taking orders for subs. The husbands would run out to pick up lunch and bring it back for everyone. My friend’s son scribbled the orders on a note pad and gave it to my husband to take with. My husband shoved the list in his pocket and was quickly out the door. When he pulled the list out once at the sandwich shop it looked something like this—murdered pig sandwich, lettuce and tomato, hold the mayo; slaughtered cow with lettuce, pickle, mustard; butchered turkey on Swiss. I’m wondering—is this bullying?
Is it being a bully or being an activist when a thirteen-year-old hides the pepperoni? Is it considered bullying when that same child dumps the drawer of deli meat down the disposal? Bullying? Activism? I don’t want my children to be bullies, but I do want them to be educated and inform others of the reasons behind their choices. So how am I to know where the line is between the two?
Book nut that I am, I immediately run for my dictionary and thesaurus. Activism, it seems, is a practice that encourages vigorous action in support of some controversial subject. To bully, on the other hand, is to browbeat or treat abusively. The thesaurus associates it with harassment, intimidation, and coercion. Not pretty. Not pretty at all. Activism pulls up more acceptable synonyms-commitment, ardor, zeal. With this, I am encouraged by the fact that activism appears to be more of an intense interest in something and the practice of standing up for that interest. Bullying is just plain being mean to people.
But, oh no.
As I read on in the thesaurus under activism, I find words such as agitation, confrontation, and aggression. And I am beginning to understand. Yes, activism does involve standing up for an issue. Taking measures to support that which one believes in. However, I am discovering that activism, too, can be bullying if carried out in a mean way. And I don’t want my kids to be mean. I don’t want my children agitating, confronting, or showing aggression.
I want them feeling committed to their vegetarian lifestyle and supporting it with an ardor and zest. I want them secure enough with who they are not to feel the need browbeat or bully. I want them educated in their choices so they can defend their position with kind words, if they feel the need to defend their choices at all. I remember asking my midwife once how she convinced couples that homebirth was a safe and valid option. She replied merely that she didn’t convince, she informed. Bigdifference.
So we’re sitting down to turkey dinner at the in-laws. It looks like it always looks—turkey, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes with butter and gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, pecan pie, and the infamous green bean casserole. My nine-year-old slides some cranberry sauce on her plate and a couple of the pumpkin muffins that I’ve brought from home. I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the tirades.
She looks at the curious adult (nice word for “about to lay into my little girl about the benefits of dead animals as protein sources and muscle builders and everything else that is right with the world”) and says very simply but with a definite attitude, fork half hanging out of her mouth and cranberry sauce a little too visible if you ask me, “What? I LIKE pumpkin muffins!”