This is the second post in a series on Adult Bullying… you can find post one on Navigating Emotional Blackmail here.
“Horton Hears a Who” is one of our family’s favorite movies. A classic Dr. Seuss children’s book made into a theatrical feast with a colorful array of characters and voices. It has a timeless message about sticking up for truth and the little guy (A person’s a person no matter how small). Imagine my surprise recently to find some of the same themes we have been discussing in our home, those messages that are the catalyst behind this new series on adult bullying, being spoken from the mouths of these characters in a way I had not noticed before.
My eyes were opened with my husband’s help to how Dr. Seuss’ classic story beautifully addresses: adult bullies, bullying behaviors, and the mob mentality.
An elephant named Horton finds a speck upon which a world full of tiny people, the Whos, live. The speck is so microscopic that he carries it around on a clover flower. Horton who has a gentle, tender heart also has a problem: a mother kangaroo. She is introduced by the narrator of the film with these words:
“Then humpfing a ‘Humpf!’ was a sour kangaroo…the type who’s convinced she knows better than you. She made every law and enforced every rule… as self-proclaimed head of the Jungle of Nool.”*
Horton sets off to find the Who’s world a safe place to reside. By the kangaroo’s rules he simply refuses to abide.
She laughs at him and mocks him behind his back (and to his face). No matter what he does he can’t do the right thing. She believes that she is right about him. She gossips. And she’s demanding, “Our community has standards, Horton. If you want to remain a part of it, I recommend you follow them.” (I bet you’ve heard this statement before take out the word “community” and fill in your own: family, church, organization, etc.)
She threatens consequences for his out of line behavior.
She refuses to listen to his truth and to accept his facts simply because she can’t hear it, see it, or feel it.
When he is not intimidated by her threats… and he continues on with his journey to find safety for this tiny world he has promised to protect – she gets really, really mean (slightly ironic that the whole time her child is watching from the kangaroo’s pouch).
The kangaroo is a bully. It is her way or the highway. She does not care if Horton is good or what other people have to say about him, she can only see his behaviors, his person, his words, his reactions through her resentful, domineering perspective.
It isn’t pretty because in her eyes everything Horton does is wrong.
Like the adult bullies in our world the kangaroo’s perceptions are skewed. Like an unreasonable person she refuses to hear the word, “NO.” And she threatens him when he tries to stand up for the little guy, for the truth, and refuses to hand over the clover on her terms.
“Are you sure you want to fight this fight,” she asks him, “because I promise you it will get very ugly very fast. And you need to ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to put myself through all this – for a clover?’”
So how far is she willing to go to prove that she is right and that Horton (that embarrassment to the Jungle of Nool) is wrong?
The Angry Mob
That sour kangaroo gets in a huff and she gathers a crowd. They all think he is nuts. He isn’t cooperating. He isn’t following her rules. They take her words and believing them set her plan into action…
The MOB MENTALITY takes over.
The thing is that we are all susceptible to being swept up into the mob. Peer pressure and what those around us think of us is a high priority for many people (my articles: approval motivates and our motives matter).
We all have this tendency to NOT ask the questions that we should, not seek the answers to things or confront someone when they are being difficult.
Instead we keep the peace, play it safe, and often end up following the crowd.
But God demands more of us then just merely following the crowd – Love your neighbor as yourself.
We have numerous Biblical examples of the mob taking a life, or believing lies, or perpetrating an evil agenda onto another person.
Jesus was sent to his death because of the mob vote…
Stephen was martyred by the mob…
Paul knew the violence of the mob on more than one occasion…
He actually had in Acts 21 what sounds like riot police assisting him through the violent crowd (“And when [Paul] came to mount the steps, he was actually being carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob.” Acts 21:35)
This is one of the reasons I talk about feeling like the armor of God I put on everyday could also be called Riot Gear.
The mob does not need much convincing to perpetrate violence either physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
All you need is a disgruntled bully leader with an agenda.
And a number of people not questioning those intentions (who blindly assume the best perhaps) who are willing to: 1. believe the lies, 2. enforce the bully’s rules, and 3. assist in stringing up the offenders.
Add a few back stories (those tales don’t even have to be true) to nudge the heightened, swirling drama along and BAM – we’ve got a violent mob on our hands.
The truth is that bullies thrive in mob settings.
The Bully needs the mob. The bully needs the mob to reject, mock, feed his ego, or continue the escalation of drama and cycling of gossip and filth.
The bully will seek to isolate and remove support from the offending party… until the offender is left with no one. And the more people he can get to help him isolate and punish that person he resents the better.
Isolation is part of the bully’s consequences… and the mob simply helps it to happen on a larger scale.
The bully loves the mob mentality because the mob can do all the damage and the bully does not have to get his hands dirty. He can sit back with his arms crossed and watch others do the work for him, to speak his words for him, to enforce his laws, and to do his bidding.
And an isolated offender feeling threatened by the mob feeds right into the bully’s agenda: get them alone, afraid, feeling guilty for their choice, get them to the point where they question and perhaps even believe that their actions are WRONG/that their truth is off …
because afterall he (the bully) has all of these people supporting him.
How could a whole group of people possibly be wrong?
All the bully wants from the offender is compliance – he is just using the mob as another part of the game plan to get it.
The bully is at heart a coward. He knows that if people get too close to the offender, if they begin to listen to the offender’s story, and if the mob takes a moment to think on their own…. the bully will begin to have issues with mob cooperation.
If the mob begins to ask questions and they start to get answers beyond the carefully crafted script the bully has given them the mob might begin to notice the discrepancies. They might begin to notice that what they know of the offender and what the bully is saying simply do not add up.
The bully’s worst nightmare is a mob that stops cooperating.
The bully will only encourage the mob’s access to the offender to a point – with warnings and scripts and carefully crafted backstories meant to shape the mob’s perception of the offender.
Bullies are users. Bullies are public image and message and information control freaks.
They thrive on knowing about people – it helps them to feel in control. Stop giving info and see how long you stay on the bully’s approval list.
So how does the story end? Does the bully Kangaroo have the final say? Or does Horton stand up for truth and save the speck?
That final dialogue finds Horton the elephant surrounded by the kangaroo bully and an angry mob:
Horton, Horton, Horton. Look at the mess you’ve created for yourself.
All this hullabaloo over a silly little flower….
this angry mob, all the trouble you’re in – it can all go away.
Crowd: [disappointed groans]
Of course. All you have to do is admit to everyone that there are no
little people living on that speck, that you were wrong and I was right.
You do that, and things can go right back to the way they were.
But if you don’t you’re going to have to pay the price.
(Can you hear the threat of consequences?)
So I just have to say it isn’t true? [he ponders this for a moment and then decides]
Go ahead – rope me, cage me. Do whatever you want.
But there are people on this speck…
And even though you can’t hear or see them at all…
a person’s a person no matter how small.
My Final Thoughts:
He stands upon the truth he has been given to say…
even if the mob is going to have their violent way.
His voice doesn’t waver not one little bit
even if that bully continues to throw a hissy fit.
There are more posts in this series arriving soon so visit again.
You can find the first post on Navigating Emotional Blackmail here.
In future editions I will be discussing my story of circling church women, Spiritual Manipulation and how we survived as well as What makes us susceptible to bullying, how to protect our marriages, family and children from adult bullies, and more.