Monday, March 27, 2006

Changing the Pattern

A week or two ago, I was driving from yon to hither in the muddle that is suburbia. I witnessed the following.
Four boys were walking down the sidewalk in the same direction I was creeping. They were probably from the middle school nearby, so they were probably late middle school age. Something happened, and one of them ran off the sidewalk onto a lawn, trying to avoid another boy; usual wimp running away from the "bigger" kid in the group.
Let's unpack that statement before I go on to what really bothered me. There seems to often be a dynamic in groups. There is a leader or two: the people who make most of the decisions about what the group will do, in all senses of the word "do." Rachel McAdams' character from "Mean Girls," and the first Heather to die from "Heathers" are two examples of the power-hungry, popular, high-school-aged female stereotype of this person, but there are other versions. Then, there are often some middle-level types, people who are basically fit in, but aren't really paid attention to. I can't think of the character in mean girls, but the other blond Heather in "Heathers" qualifies: she wasn't the leader, but she wasn't at the bottom of the pack either, in the sense that the lead Heather never really gave her a hard time. Finally, there are some followers: people who don't quite fit in, who aren't quite adept at the social conventions particular to that group, but are tolerated for some reason or another. Shannon Dougherty's Heather was one of those to start, and the character who tried to get "Fetch!" to catch on in "Mean Girls" is another.
I'm not claiming this social structure is inherent to all groups. I'm not a socialogist, or any other -ist that studies groups, so I don't know. I'm also not claiming that the structure is always mean. That is, "Mean Girls" and "Heathers" are about very cruel groups, where the social structure is preserved through hostility and psychological warfare. While I can't think of any media examples, I would not find it at all surprising that basically positive social groups have a similar structure: the doers, the people who like the ideas that the doers have and therefore follow, and the subset of followers who sometimes just don't quite get the mores, but who aren't the group's punching bags because of it. (Maybe "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants" has one of those structures; I didn't see it.)
And this group structure is not isolated to girls. This group of boys I saw definitely presented this structure in the two minutes I was watching them. And (to return to the actual story), the boy who was running away was the one at the bottom.
It wasn't anything that bad; the boy ran because he knew that, even though what he had done was not taken the way it would've been taken had someone else done it, what he had done wasn't worth the other boy's effort to really chase him down & give him (the runner) a noogie or something.
So the chaser gave up, as expected, and the runner returned to the group as they were walking.
Something else happened. I really can't remember what it was. I don't know if the light changed and I had to watch traffic while I moved 25 feet, or if I've just forgotten, but I didn't see what happened. What I do remember is that all of a sudden, the other three boys had ganged up on the runner and were beating him up. Actually punching him. They knocked him to the ground. One (two?) of them started kicking him in the stomach.
And I honestly couldn't believe I was seeing this.
I thought that I must be overdramatizing what I was seeing; that the three weren't really hurting the one that badly.
And then I thought "I have to do something, but how can I get out of this traffic to do it?" Because even if bruises weren't intended, some could happen. And anyway, how could boys think that beating a "friend," even mock-beating, was appropriate behavior?
And I thought "What if I did pull over and they turned on me? They're middle school kids, but I'm an out-of-shape 30-something." And I hated myself for putting my own safety over the safety of this kid. And then I hated myself for hating myself because I have good reasons to keep myself safe that have nothing to do with me directly, and I know that.
And I didn't know what to do.
So I got home that night and I told my husband about it. He said "Did you call the police?"
The police.
I should have called the police.
I have the non-emergency number programmed into my cell phone.
It never once crossed my mind to call the police.
And I think that's what disturbs me most about the whole situation. I tied myself up in knots and did nothing to help someone who may or may not have needed help because I didn't think to tell the appropriate authorities.
And I should have. One of the things I don't like about the Harry Potter (and other children's) books is that HP never tells any adults about what's going on, and therefore never gets any help. I don't understand that. Okay, maybe there's nothing Dumbledore can/will do about Malfoy, but if there's an evil spirit chasing HP, I think that Dumbledore could probably help out.
How can I change my thought patterns so that I remember to call the police?


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