There are many families living in my apartment complex, and my balcony overlooks the concrete courtyard where children usually play. Some of them are a little older, around 14 or 15. There are two boys in particular that I often see hanging around. One of them lives in the suite next to me, the other across the courtyard.
These boys are quite different from each other. One of them is skinny, mild-mannered, and altogether harmless. The other is overweight, obnoxious, and aggressive – a quintessential bully. Over the past year I’ve occasionally watched them, and I find that these two boys have a very interesting relationship with one another.
As is often the case, the bigger kid dominates the skinny one. For example, the skinny kid has an iPod that the bully usually takes (we’re all familiar with the game “keep-away”). The skinny kid is obviously distraught, but he goes along with the idea that it is a ‘game’ anyway. In reality, he wants the object back, and the bully is merely withholding to assert that the fact that he can. The idea of it being a ‘game’ is a necessary social pretense for the enactment of what is in reality a blatant act of domination.
Interestingly, the bully will always return the iPod once the taunting is complete. This is because the bully does not want to alienate himself completely from his subject – quite the contrary. In fact, he needs the skinny kid. Without him, of course, he would have nobody to dominate. He can keep the skinny kid around by satisfying the minimum requirements of friendship.
I don’t really understand why, but it seems as though the skinny kid needs the bully too. Maybe he is his only friend. Or maybe he likes being around someone who is tougher than him. Either way, I can confidently say that these two boys are, in a bizarre way, mutually dependent.
Here is another curious observation: whenever they play hide-and-seek, the bully cheats and lies while the skinny kid plays by the rules. From my balcony view, I have observed the bully hiding beyond the designated limits of the game (playing out of bounds), counting under the allotted duration when he is “it”, and peeking when he is supposed to have his eyes closed. The skinny kid, perhaps out of fear (or dare I say out of honesty), never cheats. When conflicts and disagreements arise in the game, as they inevitably do, they each react differently. The skinny kid tries to reach a consensus or a compromise, and the bully lies and reinvents the rules until he gets what he wants.
Such behaviour is common among young boys. I know this from experience, having been one myself. Now, I believe that such behaviour is intrinsically human, hardwired into our instincts. Why some boys are inclined to servility and others to domination, I’m not sure.
Yet for all his pitiful victories, the bully ultimately does not win. The propensity to cheat and lie may serve him well in games of hide and seek, but one day he will find himself with nobody to play with. Hopefully, this young boy will learn to treat his friends with respect before that happens, and hopefully the skinny kid will have the hardiness to forgive him.
And this is ultimately the choice we all face. Every temptation to tell untruths and cheat our way forward is a calling from our bully instincts. Sometimes we would all like to lie or cheat our way to where we would like to be, but such deceitful manoeuvres are often at the expense of others, sometimes even our best friends. And I’ve always said that the game is more fun, anyway, if you don’t peek.