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  • Reverend James Squire

Magill Is Subject To Bullying


Members of Congress and Governor Shapiro as well as a host of other politicians have safely gotten on the bandwagon to remove the Presidents of three Ivy League schools after what has been called a bad interview session with a Congressional Committee on Education.


I am glad that I grew up where I did which was a blue collar knock them down/pick them up blue collar culture. The town was surrounded by mills. I suppose others would have referred to us a backward or not entitled in any way. But there was one thing that we had that those calling for Magill’s firing don’t have. We could tell a bully when we see one. A bully would surround himself (sorry but it was mostly males) with people who would applaud and support their efforts. We know from current research that bullies are insecure and a have low self-esteem so they gain security by beating up or making someone’s life miserable in the course of school life. It's tempting to be a bully for in group dynamics, “I may be inferior, but we are magnificent.”


There was one reason that no one wanted to be seen as a bully because it quickly led to the description of “you are a coward.” That was a fate worst than death in my culture. I have already written about an occasion when I went toe to toe with a bully in a PE class who was surprised by my rage and strength. I lifted weights which was for me as important as studying hard. One on one makes you a person of courage. I had many achievements in high school, but that day putting a bully on his back was ranked at the top of my list.


Attacking Magill is an act of cowardice. I don’t see anything coming from any politicians including the Governor of Haverford and Swarthmore College (recall a Palestinian student at Swarthmore was attacked in Vermont simply because he was Palestinian) for the pro-Palestinian statements that have grounded themselves in a call for a cease fire. I spent seven years in Swarthmore as a parish priest. These people are smart and act more than they talk.


There is something else that both Democratic and Republican politicians do during hearings. After asking a question and the person to whom the question is addressed responds with the beginning of an explanation, they then are cut off. What follows is the statement, “That’s a simple question. It’s yes or no.” That is a new form of bullying with politicians. In common parlance bullying means “a one-word answer which we call “gotcha questions.” You know bullying is involved because quickly you realize that the politician doesn’t really want to hear your answer as much as get an answer to support their point of view. Lawyers do this all the time when they want to win a case.


All three Presidents of Ivy League schools know that calling for the genocide of Jews is evil. What they are not good at is getting into a good fight with a group of bullies. Hence, they blew the meeting in Washington. Already we can see some hope when they returned to their campuses all of them said a variation of “I should have been clearer about that statement that called for the Jewish people to be subject to genocide. Genocide is evil. I should also have been clearer that I have to protect everyone on my campus who is calling for a cease fire, as some Jewish students were doing in front of Dwight Evans office. I have Palestinians in my community as well to support.”


Answer yes or no, gotcha is what bullies do when they don’t’ know or don’t want to know what leads to resolution. Cowards use yes or no removing any regard for someone who is trying to see a more complete picture.


All is not lost! I have to bring my boxing teacher, Mushy Mushlanka, in to sit with the three Presidents who don’t have enough practice responding to bullies. Responding to bullies should be in today’s job description for all leaders. That could just be a most important skill set for leaders given today’s culture. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people to pile on.


One of Mushy’s most helpful lessons to me was “you are the most dangerous when somebody has you against the ropes and is attempting to rearrange your face. Depend on surprise! They think that they have you and your done. That’s when they let down their guard.”


Here is how the exchange should have happened with Stefanik. Stefanik: “Can you say that there should not be genocide of the Jews?” Magill: “Yes, it is evil!” Stefanik: Why didn’t you say it? Magill: “I should have been clearer. I will be in the future. I have to protect my Jewish students!”


Up against the ropes! Magill: “Ms. Stefanik, can I ask you some yes or no questions?” Stefanik: “Yes!” Magill: “Do you think it is important to keep free speech on my campus? Yes or no. Here is another one, yes or no, did you speak out after the Charlottesville white supremacy chants of “the Jews will not replace us.” Yes or no. Have you interviewed people at Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges or do you think that it is just our three schools that are struggling with this issue of antisemitism and islamophobia? Yes or no! Do you support a president who said the Jews should vote for me? yes or no. Do you know how many “why” questions that you have asked me? yes or no.”


Deborah Tannen, linguist at Georgetown, has indicated that if you want to put someone on the defensive and shut down a discussion just ask them “why” questions. Try it or perhaps maybe not. We have enough bullies in our culture.


Mushy Mushlanka has taught me as much as anyone at Berkeley at Yale, Duke, or Duke Medical Center. I have to introduce Mushy to Magill because she is dealing with bullies as opposed to people who are on her side and have the gift of empathy. Here is the final question, Ms. Stefanik! “Do you want Magill to be as successful as you in her academic life as you want to be in your political life Yes or no!"

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