Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I am a fan of the "It's Get Better" campaign, designed to help queer youth understand that they are going through an especially dramatic (and sometimes downright dangerous) phase of their life, and that (usually) things will settle down within a few years. I've defended the campaign to those who say it doesn't really do anything. I think it accomplishes a lot, on an individual level, and it has certainly elevated the subject of queer-bullying in the national conversation. Hopefully, not just queer individuals, but also parents, friends and schools are more aware of the situation and working to help solve the problem.

But I think the campaign is very incomplete. Here's what I would like to add to the equation. Yes, queer or bullied or unhappy youth, it likely will get better. But that doesn't necessarily help you much in the here and now. And it's entirely possible that things could get worse before they get better. So we need something that's going to help right now.

Of course, if we are seeking something that can help "right now," it can't involve society itself, because we have no control over all of society, or really, anyone outside ourself. We can't immediately change a school system, and we can't necessarily change even one bully. So the solution must be something we can conjure within ourself. Now we have full control over a potential solution. I think that something, that solution, is the concept of virtue.

It's an old word, an old idea, but one that is actually very fundamental to everything that we do and think. Yet our modern culture doesn't really take virtue very seriously. Some even scoff at the term. We are not encouraged to think about it much, if at all. Instead, we are encouraged to conform, to desire, and to consume, which it turns out are all in their ways un-virtuous. For instance, rampant consumer capitalism, which is the economic model that most of the "civilized" world currently engages, principally promotes the emotion of desire... desire for something that the seller promises us will make us "happy." But it turns out that this is usally a deception. The thing which we desire will not make us happy. And which emotions are most closely associated with desire? Greed and envy. Both of these distract and divide us from our true self, and from each other, and from the natural world.

So this is a prime example of how society de-emphasizes virtue, and emphasizes what really are unvirtuous emotions.

So how do we, especially, say, a queer youth, begin to consider virtue? First they have to be made aware that there is such a thing, and that it resides inside them (at least for most people). Recognizing that this natural goodness, this ability to think and act rightly, this virtue, is already inside you, is deeply empowering and protecting. But only if you recognize it. If you don't recognize it, it remains like Excalibur, stuck in the rock.

Uh-oh, you may question, what is this about Excalibur? Where is this leading? It's leading to the hero who pulls out the sword. And you know who that hero is? The only hero who can pull out the Excalibur of your life. The hero is you.

No, I'm not suggesting that anyone has to become an Arthur, or some kind of super-hero, or even a tough guy. You just have to recognize that you should be the hero of your own life. And you do have an Excalibur to help you do that; it's your virtue.

The bullies, those who are self-absorbed, those who want and envy and hate, they are disconnected from their virtue. Their own Excaliburs are stuck in the rock, and completely hidden from them. And so, they are really not very powerful. In fact, they are actually pathetic. And they instinctively know it. They sense they are disconnected and unreal and weak. So they feel bad about themselves. To make themselves feel better, to seem stronger, they often lash out at those they perceive as "weaker." They often turn to weapons to use against the "weaker" person. If they turn to real weapons like guns or knives or any kind of physical violence, then we have a real problem, that requires professional attention and assistance. Do not go silent in the face of this threat. Call in the authorities, parents, teachers, school administrators, the police. All of civilized history should be on your side in protecting you from such vile and inexcusable behavior.

But it's not typically guns or knives or any kind of physical intimidation that bullies employ. Their usual weapon of choice is words. And words are nothing but string to your Excalibur, your virtue.

When you are assaulted by their words, wield Excalibur. Imagine striking the offensive words down as they come at you. This is your virtue, coming to your defense. You know who you are. You are the good guy; the bullies are the bad guys. You are not trying to hurt anyone; they are. You are compassionate; they are not compassionate. You are intelligent; they are not intelligent (at least not when they are being bullies). You are creative; they are uncreative. By being a virtuous person you are in balance with Universal Order; by being bullies they are unbalanced and out of control. You are unformed, but hold high potential; they are unformed, and demonstrating low potential. You are beautiful where it counts, inside; they may be beautiful on the outside, but are a mangled mess inside. You will likely find beauty and meaning and happiness in your life; they, alas, will find heartbreak and woe. You are truthful; they are liars. Or, even if they tell the truth, they don't understand the truth, certainly not your truth. You do.

The bully will go for your perceived weakness. You're gay, you're trans, you're ugly, you're fat, you're clueless, you're not popular. Some of these things may be true. The words they sling at you may actually be accurate. They may call you "Fag" or "Queer" or "Homo" or "He-She" or "LadyBoy" or "SheMale" or "Sissy" or "Whale Butt" or "Pizza Face" or whatever. It will usually be an epithet you've heard before, because these people are not very creative.

And so, as you swing Excalibur you focus on the term and size it up, parse it. Like one of those slow-motion action films, the words fly at you... "SSTTUUPPIIDD".... and you think no, that is a completely false, completely worthless description; I reject it. Slice! Next! "FFAAGG"... and you think yes, that's part of who I am, I'm OK with that, I accept it, and this word cannot hurt me. Slice! Next!

Just like this, your inner hero protects you from the bully's assault. And all you did was get your mind around your virtue.

We should have compassion for the bullies. They are that which they deign to despise and torment. That doesn't mean we have to put up with their antics and drama. If they get really out of control, call the cops. But if they are just up to their usual shenanigans with their gossip, or their Facebook and Twitter pranks or something like that, even if they confront you with a torrent of verbal bile, just be present, look deep into their frantic and frustrated eyes, focus deep inside yourself, and flash Excalibur.

There's a long journey ahead, heroes! Yes, there will be problems, but magic is also in store. Wonderful friends and experiences and thoughts and feelings await. It won't be long. It does (usually) get better. Meanwhile, virtue in, virtue out.

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