What are We Responsible for?

Responsibility is hard.  It’s hard to take it.  It’s hard to know to what extent something is your responsibility.  Over-responsibility is as damaging as taking no responsibility at all.  It’s one of those over-used words too, that tends to lose the substance of its meaning through casual and frequent use.  Click on the link below for an interesting background to the origins of the word:


Yesterday, I received some wonderful news.  After years of searching and asking, I obtained a spiritual and writing mentor.   I was absolutely buzzing, and found that in my writing group discussion and practice that day, I flew through, making beautiful connections articulately.  Truly, this is the flow.  A wonderful thing.

Then when I went to pick my daughter and her friend up from school, I found her friend’s big sister at the school gates.  She seemed subdued for a usually bubbly and talkative 11 year old.  I asked her what was up. and she burst into tears.  What followed was a horrible story about the bullying she has suffered at school.  That day she had been verbally taunted and had her head slammed in a door.  All in front of a teacher who was too intimidated by the rowdy class to do much about it.  It was awful, and really frightening.  In London now, bullying has become even more of a spectatator sport.  Forget the secretive bully.  Kids now film their abuse on their phones and post it on you tube.  It leaves me with a hollow feeling in my heart, like the bottom has dropped out of the world.  Because young people are the foundation.  And the relentless violence that is characterising so many really young kid’s experience of the world, whether bully or bullied, is a deep wound in our collective psyche.

I admit it.  I wanted to run away.  Because it is scary.  You worry that if you take a stand, then you will be targeted.  Certainly, in the heat of the moment, people have died challenging these things.  London is too full of those stories.  I feel them like a silent weight.  Is it my responsibility to find the bullies and punish them?  Punishment and revenge is so often the desire that kicks in first when confronted with injustice.

Those thoughts flashed trough my head lightning-like.   I pause, very briefly because time is short and I am the grown up here.  I take a breath and do what my practice asks me to do.  I deal with what is in front of me right now as best I can.  I am one woman with a lot of responsibility.  And it’s in no shape or form a responsibility to put the world to rights and sort out London’s horrifying bullying problem.   I have an 11 year old in bits, two high energy four year olds and a baby in a buggy to push.  Home is a 20 minute walk away.  My responsibility is to keep all these lives that are in my care right now as OK as possible.  We walk.  the 11 year old is utterly distressed and talking about her experience.  It is violent and scary, and the four year olds are listening.  I take us to the playground.  They play, and the 11 year old can talk.  I try to walk the line.  And I am scared of not being up to this challenge.  Today I have been blessed with a mentor to help me make sense of the big stuff I confront.  Now, I have someone in front of me who needs that from me.  I may be inadequate to the task, but I am required to act.  We breath.  We talk.  I try to reassure without making promises that can’t be kept.  Will everything be alright?  I don’t know.  Can we stop this pain right now?  Probably not.  I am powerless.  I want to cure this, but it is beyond me right now right here.  What I offer are tissues, nasal breathing to steady her nerves and hugs.  Many hugs.  I remind her that she is not alone.  I tell her to look for the things that make her feel good and real and strong inside.  The films, the books, the music that can offer her a better narrative.  I acknowledge the hate she feels, and gently let her know that at some point she will have to drop this barrier if it is not to eat her up.  Am I being too strict?  Too prescriptive?  I don’t know.  We need food and home.  My phone to call her mother.  Today would be the day I left it on the table.

So we do that.  Get home.  Eat.  TV.  Ordinary grounding things.  The kids are all fine right now.  I am in awe of their resilience.  I give the 11 year old a notebook and tell her that writing things down when they get too much has always helped me out when the pressure needs to be relieved.  I speak to her mother, and when her dad comes to pick them up, I write down an account of what has happened.  My handwriting is large and loopy.  For a second I am struck by the power of the written word.  watching the narrative appear on the page as I write, I see how being able to tell this story clearly means that healing can come closer.  Maybe.  I am aware of my ego on the edges wanting to take credit or blame here.  Again.  Back to what is in front of me.  Write down the events of the day, clearly and in a way that can be communicated and understood clearly in order for right action to be taken.  Contact details at the school.  Hand to the parent.

This morning, her mum asked if I would go with her to a meeting with the parent’s of one of the kids who was involved in the assault.  Again I stall.  Is this my place?  I am wary of getting over involved inappropriately and bringing pressures I can’t handle down on myself.  For right or wrong, I decide that it is not my responsibility to rush in here.  I do give the contact details of an organisation that can offer support, and my writing services if any letters need to be written to get the right kind of action taken.

But I don’t stop thinking about this.  How can we, as the grown ups, respond to situations where young people are inflicting pain on each other, and us,  and it all seems out of control?  At 1pm most days, I listen to Robert Elms on BBC London.  It’s an amazing radio show, idiosyncratic and deep without being pretentious.  Sometimes I feel it is a little bit magical in how its subject matter will resonate with whatever it is I am grappling with that day.  Today I turn it on, and immediately hear the word ‘Bibliotherapy’.  It is not something I am familiar with, but a quick google reveals there’s a lot out there about this.  It’s the use of reading particular books relevant to the experience of what any person might be going through, in order to activate a process of identification, catharsis and insight.

I find this on WordPress, an account of using bibliotherapy as part of healing strategies for young people.  One book in particular catches my eye, to get kids who bully, and are bullied, to reflect on their experience.  Hopefully bring them more into presence with their actions and into an awareness of consequence.  To reflect on responsibility, and forgiveness.


And impulsively, I order the book.  If nothing else, I can give it to the 11 year old to read.  And maybe, I can put myself out there a little bit and offer it to the school to use as part of their strategy to deal with the youngsters who are doing this bullying.  Imagine a punishment where you sit in detention and read a book that might change your life.  Or not.  Changing lives is not my responsibility.  Responding to what is in front of me as best I can, treading very very carefully, well, that might be.



6 thoughts on “What are We Responsible for?

  1. This story breaks my heart. That poor little girl, I can only hope that the school called the authorities and they will set a good example at this young age. She was very lucky to have you to console her right away, she may not have spoken about it if too many hours pasted and she adopted the victim mentality, I’m sure in some way you’ve made a difference in her life.

  2. Lovely. You did the caring, wise things that guided the girl to some peace. We can’t be responsible for the world’s happiness and the correcting of all its problems but we can care and love.
    Thank you for reminding me of bibliotherapy. I practice it on myself all the time but now I’m thinking it may be a good way to help guide my own children.

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