Let's talk about bullying. We know it happens. A lot. Almost everywhere you look. In homes. In schools. On the streets. Online. In Parliament.
Bullying is the misuse of power, physical, verbal, or psychological by one person with greater power toward a person or persons with lesser power, where that second person is in a lessor position by virtue of inequity of physical strength, financial assests, or dependency and trust.
One of the first things I learned years ago in my attempt to help a woman who had temporarily escaped her physically abusive husband was the pervasive effects of that abuse. As a part of the physical imposition of his will, he had so controlled her physical reality that her cognitive ability, her capacity to make decisions, to apprehend reality, was impaired. Proper treatment would have required exhaustive time to bolster and rebuild her integrity. Alas, we didn't have that luxury of time and she went back to that darkness.
We've heard a great deal about bullying among everyday folks. 'White ribbons' and 'It's not OK' are important raisers of consciousness. What's needed is a look at the bullying among and by the people we endow with power greater than our own. Let's talk about parliamentarians and bullying for a change.
If evidence is needed that bullying knows no partisan limit we have the Francis report of allegations of bullying by Labour's Meka Whaitiri, National's Maggie Barrie and Independent Jami-Lee Ross. The real problem is the lack of transparency and accountability. Only parliamentarians have seen the report. And the report is not an 'investigation' and has no serious further consequence. Unless and until the report is made public or an investigation is launched, these alleged bullies can claim innocence.
If this sounds eerily like the Mueller Report and Donald Trump's claim of 'complete exoneration' from charges of obstruction of justice, so be it. Whaitiri said the claims were false. Maggie Barry told Newshub "No". She hadn't bullied anyone.
An essential element of bullying is the bully's failure to respect others' boundaries, and to act with impunity and disregard even of the law.
We need to consider acts of Speaker Trevor Mallard who, without benefit of a trial, decided on his own authority, that a staff member accused of "sexual assault" was guilty of rape. The man, who left his job in Parliament told the Herald he had been bullied out of the workplace by Mallard's comments, which he called "slanderous."
The ex-staffer has no recourse, as comments made in Parliament are immune from external consequence. Only the hapless citizen targeted endures consequences.
Bullying as a method may affect all of us. Particularly in preventing us from having a clear and honest debate on the issue of choice in the way we die. We need the best unbiased information about the EOLC, to be informed for making our views heard through the referendum we're promised.
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Instead, a small group of opponents of choice, described by the Waikato Times as under sway of the Catholic Church and led by Maggie Barry, have promulgated falsehoods about the effects of the EOLC on "vulnerable" people. Their fear mongering is contrary to the facts of the 10 years' experience in Oregon — the model for this bill — and in disregard of the judicial fact-finding of Judge Collins in Seales v Attorney General that vulnerable people are unlikely to be victimised and that there is no consensus in the medical community on the issue.
Had this opponent group declared its religious biases, that would at least have been honest and respectable. As it is, they've used their high office to browbeat and frighten into submission the people they opportunistically claim to be concerned about.
Small wonder the problem of bullying persists among us when those endowed with power we grant betray their trust, and now — as I wrote last week, (Chronicle, July 10) — would impose their will and even deny us a vote on the most important choice we can make.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.