Sunday, 27 May 2018

James Comey on the bully and bullying

Chapter 3 of James Comey's book, 'A Higher Loyalty' is on the bully and bullying. Now James Comey was born in Dec. 1960,, and so is only around 2 years older to me (I was born in 1962). So I have found accounts of his growing up in a small city called Yonkers in New York which is very close to New York city, and later in New Jersey, Allendale, to be very interesting, and I compared it mentally with my growing up in few parts of Bombay/Mumbai (Dadar and Bandra(East) with fair bit of holidays spent in Chembur/Ghatkopar) and later a town close to Mumbai called Dombivli from where I would commute to Mumbai by (usually crowded) suburban trains for college and later work.

Comey who now is a well built six foot eight inches and so has an imposing physical figure, writes that as a kid he was "anything but imposing"! He studied in Yonkers till he was in fourth or fifth grade and was a well accepted and liked kid in his school. Later his family moved to New Jersey and so he had to join a new school in Allendale, New Jersey in fifth grade. Here he was viewed as an outsider by the other schoolkids who taunted him and physically bullied him. He was knocked down to the ground. He was invited to fist fights in a nearby park which he tried to avoid.

He writes about encountering more bullies in ninth grade. He implies that he was body-slammed into a locker which hurt. Then he writes about "wedgies". He writes, "If memory serves, a wedgie involved ripping another boy's underwear out of his pants by grabbing the rear waistband of his underwear and yanking upward. The offense typically involved two assailants, and I endured several in the ninth grade."

He writes that he tried to avoid confrontation.

Ravi: My God! I would never have imagined that former FBI Director James Comey had to endure such physical bullying while in school in New Jersey! Yes, I had read about pretty nasty physical level bullying in some USA schools but somehow I thought James Comey's schools would have been different.

Hmm. What a contrast my school life was when it comes to physical or mental bullying! I guess I was on the thinner side even as a boy. I went to English High School in Dadar (East) (now it is no longer there) which was not among the best schools in the area. I studied there upto 7th standard. Later I attended 8th to 10th standard in Cardinal Gracias High School in Bandra (East) which was viewed as one of the top schools of Bandra (East). Note that there was no hostel in these schools. We used to be based in our homes and attended school during school hours.

In neither school do I recall ever being physically bullied at all! And I cannot recall even being a target for verbal bullying. I don't think I was ever confrontational then and I think if there was a fight kind of situation, I would have chosen to walk away and avoid it. I don't recall any regular physical bullying of anybody else either. Yes, there would have been some physical fights at times. But not a regular targeted bullying of some students.

I guess my Bombay school experience of no bullying, has been like what Comey experienced in his Yonkers city school (till fourth/fifth grade).

Comey writes that in his college years, from 1978, which were at College of William and Mary (seems to be in Williamsburg, Virginia), he himself joined in bullying another boy by trashing his room and creating problems for him (but not physically assaulting him). Comey writes that he is still ashamed of him having joined in that bullying. He does not say anything about himself being bullied in his college years, and so I presume that he was not himself bullied then.

In my college years (junior college: 11th and 12th standard, and later degree college, from 1978 to 1983), which was in Ruia college in Matunga, and short six month or so period of post-graduate study (M.Sc.) in Khalsa college, Matunga, and Bombay University Kalina campus (second half of 1983), I was aware of some violence during student union elections. But I simply avoided getting involved with such matters. Other than student union elections related violence and disturbances, there would be some verbal taunting, rough jokes etc, especially if some guy was going around with some girl. But that too did not really get into targeted verbal bullying of certain types of students, as far as I could see. And I don't recall any targeted physical bullying of certain types of students at all. But then I did not live in the college hostel. I would attend college during college hours and then go back home. Perhaps those who lived in the college hostel did face some bullying.

But we heard harrowing tales of ragging involving some physical assault kind of matters too, in some engineering college hostels. Some of the really nastier types of ragging would get reported in the newspapers. At that time, science degrees like the one that I did was possible via non-residential colleges. But most engineering degrees required attendance in residential colleges and so hostel living.

As I never lived in a school or college hostel, I perhaps was spared bullying.

Comey writes that bullies are powerful in groups because it is easier to be a follower. He writes that groups (sometimes) get hijacked by bullies with the loudest voice!

Ravi: It is my experience of spiritual commune/ashram systems and spiritual commune/ashram groups that when the top leadership condones bullying, what Comey writes above becomes true of the commune. But if the top leadership pulls such bullies up when complaints are made against them, then the bullies can be held at bay. The special case is when the founder of a spiritual commune/ashram system dies. In the ensuing power vacuum, it is the loud voices and power mongers who tend to get power, and sometimes a small coterie of powermongers are able to hijack part or whole of the spiritual commune/ashram system.

Comey writes that he developed a lifelong hatred for bullies and sympathy for victims of such bullies. He writes that some of his most satisfying work as a prosecutor "was putting bullies of all kinds in jail, freeing good people from their tyranny".

I salute James Comey for writing so frankly about his experiences of being bullied in school and himself being a bully (but not physical assault bully) in college in one case (and then repenting deeply for it). I admire and commend Comey for later taking up public prosecution work which targeted bigger bullies who commited crimes (including physical assault crimes) and jailed them, thereby providing relief to good people in the community who were being targeted by these bullies. I pray to God to shower His Grace on James Comey for this public prosecutor work that he did against bullies.

[I thank James Comey and have presumed that he will not have any objections to me sharing the above short quotes from his book on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever. Note that Indian fair dealing law (and USA fair use law too, I guess) allows small quotes from copyrighted books to be used in reviews and commentary articles like this one.]

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