We all know a bully when we see one: he (or she) is small-minded, self-important, generally crude and often sadistic. They hate themselves and are loved by few, and they lack the intellectual depth or strength of character to take on any but those they perceive as weak. They thrive in small ponds and wilt in the glare of rational thought or a more substantial opponent. It doesn't take much to steal a smaller kid's marbles. It doesn't take much to shame someone for being poor when you've lived your whole life over a safety net. It doesn't take much to get someone to kiss your ass when you control her means of supporting herself. And yet, in spite of the obvious ease with which they achieve their objectives, bullies always seem disproportionately pleased with themselves, as though they've just accomplished an impressive feat. Such is the feeble perspective of the bully.
The most famous bully in my area code, of course, is our newly re-elected cretin of a governor, Paul LePage. LePage is famous for many things: bluster, sanctimony, "plain-spokenness," and all around dick-wagging. He doesn't negotiate, doesn't compromise, and basically doesn't give a shit about what anybody thinks unless they embrace his top-heavy agenda. To my knowledge, Paul LePage has never lost an election, and god did I want him to lose this one, for the obvious reason that he's driving the state at breakneck pace back to the nineteenth century, but mostly because I was hoping that, for once in his miserable life, somebody -- in this case Maine voters -- would essentially whack him on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper and say "Bad dog." Because that's what a bully needs: he needs to get his nose bloodied. And perhaps that little bit of perspective might have prompted him to wake up the next day and, oh, I don't know, reevaluate a few things, and maybe stop being quite such a douchebag of a human being. But that didn't happen, so now we'll never know. We'll just never know.
My favorite local bar is managed by a junkyard dog. She's a classic bully: she intimidates the staff, she manipulates their schedules if they piss her off, and if she wants them to quit, she simply limits their hours to the extent that there's no way they could make enough money there to feed themselves and keep roofs over their heads. I've watched her run roughshod over the staff there for a few years now. Recently she and I had a minor run-in, a disagreement from which I was content to simply walk away rather than endure a full-blown argument (after all, it's simply unkind to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person). Because she lacks the stones to address her frustration to me directly, she instead resorted to messing with my girlfriend, who works at the bar, punishing her by reducing her schedule, week by week, from full-time to, now, about half-time. She's taken her off nearly all the lucrative shifts. The junkyard dog is giving my girlfriend the shaft because she's mad at me and, because she's a coward, she can't confront me directly.
My girlfriend is one of the good ones. Patrons and co-workers alike are fond of her. She works hard, she's knowledgable and attentive, and she is possessed of a personality that is both appealing and genuine. Beyond all that, she simply does her job and doesn't complain about it. She was doing her job tending bar a couple weeks ago when I went in there with my laptop, ordered a sandwich and a few drinks, and sat quietly with my headphones on, typing away and listening to my music. In other words, I was a customer, one who spent about forty dollars on what was a slow Saturday afternoon. Two days later, through a proxy, the junkyard dog relayed a directive to my girlfriend that it wasn't appropriate for me to be in there "hanging out" with her while she worked. Never mind that I was a paying customer, never mind that we didn't interact any more than she did with any other customer, never mind that she was, without fail, doing her job. The junkyard dog saw what she thought was a loose thread and, because she's simple and mean, she just had to tug on it to see how much she could unravel.
Nobody deserves to be bullied, particularly at work, but for a manager to aggressively alienate a good employee seems pretty stupid to me. To also alienate a long-time customer who has spent a lot of money in your establishment, well that just seems like a pretty fucking stupid business practice. Not that my presence, or even my money, amounts to much in the grand scheme of things, but I can tell you I haven't been in there since, and I don't see myself going back anytime soon. Which is harsh buds for me because, in our crumbling little backwater, it's slim pickings when it comes to bars. But such is life.
I lost a job once as the result of a bully. He came into the company where I'd worked for five years and started stirring up shit, creating little rifts and cliques, effectively marginalizing anybody he felt he could easily intimidate. We were a small company that had grown exponentially in a few short years, and that success was the fruit of hard work by good people, people who had more than earned the right to feel secure in their jobs. But the boss was both paranoid and a coward, and so he brought in his own junkyard dog in the person of the guy he was fucking at the time. It's always a dangerous game when you give the junkyard dog the run of the place, but when your enforcer is also the person who lays his head on the adjacent pillow every night, well, that's a mess nobody's going to want to clean up. For months I watched the staff suffer mostly in silence -- mostly, except for the ones who came to me. And when I'd seen and heard enough, I rolled up a newspaper and I whacked him, hard, right on his little piggy snout. The consequences were foreseeable and, ultimately, pretty devastating for me personally. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all it takes for iniquity to thrive is for good men do nothing. And the shame of having done nothing is not a shame I relish bearing.
If there's a point to this rant, it's this: that in spite of the fact that the bully will often win out in the end, it's still worthwhile to step up and stand up to him or her. You may lose your job or get your teeth kicked in, or you may end up with four more years of a mean-spirited ignoramus running your state, but it still feels goddamned good to know you were the one who said, "Enough." In the end, the simple truth is that a bully is as fragile as a Faberge egg. Take your whacks, and sooner or later you'll knock the tyrant off the wall, and neither all the king's horses nor all the king's men could ever hope to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.