Breaking the bullying cycle

Even though I’m surrounded by them, I’m glad I’m not a teacher. My brother, my mother and my wife are all teachers, and I can safely say that with my lack of patience, I’d spend more time in front of a judge than a blackboard.

But things can be learned from them, and given the difference in the educational upbringing of my wife and I (mine at the hands of the Christian Brothers, hers in a modern, liberal Swedish/European system), it’s a subject often discussed at home.

Take bullying, for example.

At my wife’s school, bullying is taking very seriously indeed. The alleged perpetrator is immediately removed from the environment and asked about the situation.

There is no accusation, no discussion about the past, about evidence or specific incidents. A simple question to the bully follows- what are you going to do about it?

Though bullying still occurs, it is a very effective way of acknowledging and dealing with the problem not least because no time is wasted in raking over the past. The future is what matters.

But in European politics the attitude is the opposite. Bullied into repeating referenda until the desired response was given, Ireland is now being hung by its y-fronts from the school railings and further humiliated over the bailout.

We sent for our big brother, but rather than the aggressive rugby player or hurling captain we got Enda and Michael, who, like their predecessors, also turned out to have glass jaws.

On the sidelines stand the chief cheerleaders of the bullies- men like Peter Sutherland, who as chair of Goldman Sachs cravenly hopes to share in whatever lunch money the rest manage to beat out of us.

Otherwise reasonable nations like Sweden, Denmark and Belgium stand silently by, fearful that in different circumstances it could be them on the hook.

There are two ways to fight back, and neither of them is easy. The first is to hit back and give the bully a bloody nose by not paying up. This of course would result in a massive beating from the markets, but the only way to wind this bully is to hit him in the wallet.

Besides, we won’t have access to the markets for the foreseeable future, so they’d be no great loss. And standing up to the economic bullying is the first stroke we need to pull if we are to return to the confidence trick known as the money markets.

The second, less-preferrable option is to band together with the other poor unfortunates and try to present a united front- essentially saying to our creditors “go ahead and beat us, but only for 23 hours a day, rather than the 24 you’re filling at the moment. Thanks”. There is no respect to be won here.

At the bottom of all this, most worryingly of all, an ideological battle is being waged, and staggeringly it is the free marketeers- who caused this mess in the first place- who look like winning it.

People like Leo Varadkar, who believe that there is no link between poverty and ill health, no longer have to argue their case for eradicating the welfare state; there is simply no money left to pay for decent healthcare, so it’s a moot point. Ditto social welfare. Ditto minimum wage.

Note how all these affect the poor disproportianately.

There is a third way, of course, and that is to take the bully out of the class and ask him what he is going to do about his behaviour.

To succeed, the Irish government would need to precede this by doing going on a Europe-wide PR offensive, doing set-piece interviews with the major European newspapers and explaining in great deal what not renegotiating is going to cost the French and German taxpayer over the next ten years.

There is nothing the European holds more sacred than his hard-won pension, and to implicitly or explicitly threaten its value by forcing a meltdown on the euro would make them sit up and take notice like a gunshot.

We need to play the bully’s game and we need to do it to the same audience, but with elections coming up all over Europe the timing may be all wrong.

So given the limited options available, let’s go for the first option.  It’s time to roll up your sleeves and swing as hard as you can Enda, safe in the knowledge that we’re all behind you – for now.

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