On Bullying

When I attended US schools in the 1970s, the term “bullying” was used to describe extreme cases of recurrent physical abuse of kids, by kids. Verbal abuse, no matter how severe, was identified by the soft term “teasing.”

Most of the adults around us did not see teasing as a problem that they could or should address. Everyone advised victims to reply with the childish chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We all knew that this was bullshit: words can hurt – a lot – and are often intended to do so. But adults believed that: “It’s all part of growing up; kids have to toughen up and learn to handle it.”

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When I was a child in Bangkok, we lived for two years in a big house on a small soi (side street) with a dozen or so similar houses, mostly rented to foreigners. I was seven or eight years old, and the family next door had two teenage boys.

One day one of the neighbor boys invited me over to see his collection of butterflies and moths. I had no idea what it meant to collect insects, and was horrified to learn that it involved capturing them, chloroforming them, and pinning them to boards. The boy (who seemed very grown up to me) proudly showed me the jar where he gassed them to death, and how he spiked them on pins through their thoraxes onto cardboard.

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A Private Eclipse

I won’t be seeing this year’s totality – can’t take time out from other commitments to go to where it’s happening. But I feel I’ve already had the peak eclipse experience of my life, even though I wasn’t in the path of totality for that one, either.

I was in Delhi in February, 1980, with a bit of time to kill between the end of a six-week tour of India and the start of the school semester up in Mussoorie. I was staying with the Roemmeles, a missionary family with three daughters at Woodstock, one of them my classmate, Anne. I don’t remember exactly how long I stayed; it was not uncommon for students at loose ends to stay for weeks with school friends during our long winter holidays.

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The Playboy

Most babies seem to go through stages in how they interact with other humans: early on, they cling to parents and other familiar people, but are interested in strangers and don’t seem to imagine that anything in the world wants to hurt them. Then they become more cautious and reserved for a while.

Then there’s the flirty stage. Our daughter at age 15 months was out to charm the world, and she was very, very good at it. She knew full well how to deploy her big, brown eyes and rich, deep laugh. She could get adults who usually showed no interest in children to play with her for hours.

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sunset over a plane wing

Conversation on a Plane

Once, about 20 years ago, I was on a long-haul British Airways flight, probably from London to San Francisco, or vice-versa. I don’t sleep much on planes, so during a quiet night I ended up in the galley, chatting with one of the flight attendants. We exchanged the usual origin stories. He was half Indian, half Pakistani, a situation whose complexities I could intuit, given my own history in India and Bangladesh.

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