Yin and Yang of Simian Life
Radiation Level: Causing pain in my lower back
Listening To: Broken in all the Right Places by I Am Jen
Spring break is upon us and I can sure use some time away from children. There is something about teaching that’s a lot like performing. You have to be 100% present every moment. No daydreams. No checking Facebook. No glass of wine at lunch. I’m equipped to be fully present, acting on stage does that to you, but it sure does make Angry Birds Space sound appealing. Children demand your attention, every ounce, every moment. And they should. They are vulnerable and it takes a village to rear them.
This week I had to review the documentary Bully. It was a hard watch. Given a choice, I wouldn’t have seen it due to its depressing nature, but I didn’t have a choice. One of the reasons it was hard to view for me is because I teach in the public school system. I see bullying constantly. Not to the extreme as shown in the film, but it is part of children’s nature. It is human nature to want to fit into the tribe and to shun those who are different. Of course, now that we no longer live on the savanna in Africa, we don’t need to be quite so discriminatory, if at all.
Once, I had one girl in a class strike a boy with a closed fist right in front of me. Alarmed, I jumped up, firmly saying I do not tolerate violence in my class.
The girl said, “It’s okay. He’s my brother.”
I looked at the boy and said, you just let her hit you like that? He replied, “Yeah.”
This violent dynamic between them had become de rigueur. I looked straight into his eyes and told him that there’s no way I’d let my sister hit me. My point is that violence can easily become normalized if you let it.
Some of the school administrators in the movie Bully seem to have reached this unfortunate new-normal. That or they really hate some of these kids. There’s a scene where 12-year-old Alex and his parents are speaking to a school administrator about the bullying that is happening to Alex on the school bus. The school’s solution? Put Alex on a different bus. It was shocking that they chose not to address the bully himself. Instead, he’s left to find a new victim and what’s even sadder, clearly bullies are created, so no one is even concerned about what’s going on at this kid’s house that’s causing him to act out.
On the other end of the spectrum, I saw another documentary about chimpanzees. (FalloutGirl hearts animal docs!) When a baby chimp is orphaned, it becomes clear he won’t survive without a miracle. All the other chimp mothers shun him — this is normal behavior due to the fact that they have to make their own child top priority to ensure their offspring’s survival. But then the troop’s Alpha Male, YES THE ALPHA MALE, takes the little guy under his wing. He provides food. He grooms him. He even lets the tiny ape ride on his back and curl up next to him when sleeping. The meanest, baddest chimp around basically adopts him. It is stunning to see and baffling to try to comprehend the Alpha’s motivation. Does he know that it’s better for the troop to ensure the survival of this male chimp? Or does he feel sorry for him? Or does he think investing in this relationship will cause the young chimp to protect the Alpha as he gets old an loses Alpha status? I don’t think even Jane Goodall knows, but it inspires faith in humanity, knowing that from such primal roots grew our own ability to (mostly) transcend animal instincts and put the benefit of others before our own.
Anyway, the yin and yang of simian life makes for fun blogging. Violence and sacrifice are alive and well in all primates, including the human ones.