Once upon a time, I lived in Japan and worked with junior high school students. Every week or so, I would hear someone repeat a Japanese saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” It was easily the saying I heard most frequently while I was there.
I was gaijin – foreign. Sometimes that was a problem, sometimes it was of interest, sometimes it just was. But it always was. I was always different. I was never allowed to forget it. But since I was foreign, I didn't have to be hammered down.
Japanese that were different had to be hammered down.
There were a lot of suicides among junior high and high school students while I was there (as there have been since). Those students were always reported as having been bright and sensitive and afraid of shaming their families by not doing well enough in school. I wondered if there wasn't more to it than that, but wasn't fluent enough in Japanese to find out.
Bullying was a big problem while I was there, too. Some of the kids who suicided had been bullied. They were different and were being hammered down. I'm sure that kids who appeared different sexually were some of those regularly hammered down in Japan, but with my lack of fluency and the pervasive self-protective secrecy of the Japanese culture and families, there was little chance that I would ever know for sure.
Fast forward to today and we've seen a spate of young people suicide after being bullied for being different sexually.
Archetypes are sets of characteristics that persist across time and cultures. In this case, I am referring to human personality archetypes. Each personality archetype has certain attributes which can manifest in healthy ways or as elements of our shadow, the “positive” and “negative” sides. How these archetypes manifest reflect the health or sickness of the culture in general as well as the individuals involved.
For example, a Warrior is a person (usually male) who risks his life to protect others of his greater group or cause by fighting and possibly killing foreign Warriors. The positive Warrior adheres to a code of honor, and doesn't harm non-warriors. The shadow Warrior might harm civilians, or follow orders that dishonor them or their group. We might call someone a prostitute when they compromise their personal principles for a worldly reward like money or a job promotion. This is using The Prostitute archetype in a negative way. We seldom hear it used as a positive unless it's part of the phrase “Prostitute with a Heart of Gold,” but like every archetype (including The Coin), it has two sides (or more).
Caroline Myss, who teaches about human archetypes, describes the archetype of The Bully. Bullies prey on those they perceive as different and weaker than themselves. The shadow side of The Bully is a reflection of the unconscious values each society teaches its young. The Bully makes us aware of the uglinesses of our culture. The Bully unthinkingly acts out our fears and angers and prejudices. Obviously, gay bashers are bullies.
The positive aspect of The Bully is the awareness we all get from witnessing their actions. From their actions, we can see what our children are learning from our society about the kinds of violence that are acceptable and who the victims can be.
Not everyone who bullies is a habitual Bully. Sometimes people act out in ways that are not who they usually are. They find themselves in a situation and, without thinking through the possible consequences, take actions that they think society or authorities would have them do. Or if they're young and subject to peer pressure, they might do what they think will award them social standing.
The most public recent case of bullying was that of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi. So far, I have not heard any word of the intentions or motivations of the young man and woman who publicly humiliated him. Maybe they were trying to raise their social standing, or maybe they were just trying to impress each other. Clementi's bullies may not have actually intended to harm him. They may not have thought through what they did. They may have thought merely that it would be funny to videotape him and put the recording online. It probably never occurred to them that he might kill himself over it. Of course they knew that they were invading his privacy and that it would be, at the very least, embarrassing for him.
What they didn't know is that this would be a case of instant karma for them. The media attention has shone a multi-million watt light on their actions. And they don't look good. Now they are the ones subject to exposure, embarrassment and shame. They are being publicly presented in a way that takes away their privacy, control, and preferences. Just like Clementi was by them.
The bullies got their come-uppance, publicly – the only way a Bully can be neutralized. That feels fair. Bullies deserve their due – and darnit! – it feels good to see them get justice.