The world is a schoolyard

There are several English words that we have long incorporated into our vocabulary, such as celebrity, feeling, cool and fair play.

The world is a schoolyard

There are several English words that we have long incorporated into our vocabulary, such as celebrity, feeling, cool and fair play. There is another, assimilated in the last decade, that interests me more, because of the nuances it contains and because it is applicable to the main danger that the world is facing today. I mean bullying.

The Royal Spanish Academy does not like it and recommends using bullying or bullying instead. Not much attention has been paid to it. Bullying is still used in Spanish because people sense that its meaning goes beyond the alternatives proposed by the RAE. It has its origin in the English word bully, typically the big boy who abuses his strength to intimidate the weakest, beating them up or stealing candy. It is used a lot in English, beyond the school context, starting from the correct premise that human beings tend to behave all their lives like children in the schoolyard.

I remember an English journalist with whom I covered the wars in Central America in the 1980s. Referring to Washington's military support for the rabid right wing in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, my colleague rightly said that the Americans were bullies.

Today the bully is Putin and his schoolyard is the world. Some suffer more closely than others, but, as he likes to remind us, he can destroy us all, if he wants. Let us imagine the world as a school, the countries as if they were the students.

Putin's Russia is the bully everyone fears. The Ukraine is his favorite victim, but he does not stop showing his fist to the little ones from the Baltic countries and throwing threatening looks at others that he had subjugated until recently, such as Poland. For too long Western European countries looked the other way. Suddenly they decide to intervene, knowing that they now have the help of the strongest boy in the school, the United States. The Russian bully has gone too far, there is a lot of blood and the new best friends have resolved that the defense of one is the defense of all. With which the poor little Ukrainian, emboldened, not only defends himself, but counterattacks.

The question now, eleven weeks after the start of the war, is how to proceed, how to neutralize the bully and avoid major catastrophes. The first thing to do, as in any conflict, is to know the enemy. This week I discovered an article that can help. It's about bullying. Published in 2009 in a magazine called Psychology Today, it is surprising for the faithful portrait it offers of what Putin is today.

Bullies, he says, have well-defined psychological characteristics. “They look for easy victims… They lack positive social behavior, they don't suffer from anxiety and they don't understand the feelings of others. They exhibit a certain paranoia: they misread the intentions of others, often confusing neutrality with hostility”. That is Putin; that is its relationship with Ukraine in particular and the West in general. He becomes convinced, to his delirium, that they are going to invade his country; he reads that the Ukrainian government is Nazi and will be easy to subdue; it shows no sense of humanity in the face of the pain it causes millions of human beings.

“Bullying – the article continues – carries the implicit message that aggression and violence are acceptable solutions to problems when they are not. Cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution favor today's interconnected world. Bullying harms both the victim and the bully. The lives of most bullies end up going down a negative spiral." Well yes. The resort to violence and conquest not only belongs to a time when the world was less connected, but Putin has had it all wrong. His military operation has been a fiasco, the economy of his country is in the ICU and today he has more enemies than ever. Which brings us to the news of the week.

“Research shows – says Psychology Today – that the most effective way to stop a bully is to activate those who previously had only been bystanders… Since almost all children witness bullying at some point, it is essential to teach them that They have an important role in stopping it. A bully can try to retaliate against one person who opposes him, but it is difficult for him to do it against several.

The news of the week is that Sweden and Finland plan to abandon a long tradition of neutrality –of being bystanders– and join NATO, the group whose mission is to defend against the Russian bully, led by the strong American. The question is whether it will work, whether Putin shrinks or becomes more dangerous. Here Psychology Today does not offer much consolation.

He says that some bullies give up their bad habits, but many don't. “Aggression is a very stable style of interaction. Many who were bullies as children become adults committing crimes, beating their spouses, abusing their children, and producing another generation of bullies.”

Putin was a bully as a child in Leningrad, he is a criminal mobster, he beats his compatriots if they do not obey, he abuses his Ukrainian children and is part of a long tradition of bullies, via Stalin to the tsars. In Russia, bullying, the imposition of power through fear, has been "a very stable style of interaction" for centuries. It is understandable, therefore, that the cleanest and nicest kids in school, Finland and Sweden, choose to abandon pacifism and get their hands dirty by joining the protective alliance of NATO. The problem is that the bully shows no sign of backing down. Rather the opposite, if one listens to what he says.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov harshly declared that the decision by Finland and Sweden "will not bring more security to Europe." Putin and his courtiers had long warned that if the two neighboring countries joined NATO, Russia would respond with a nuclear escalation. Here is the great dilemma of our times; Here, too, is the difference between Putin and the bully in the psychology manual. He has an ace up his sleeve that the others don't. If all the students turn against him, he has the ability to blow up the entire school.


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