A blonde Barbie doll sticking halfway out through the roof of a car shuddered as the edge of a sliding glass window trapped her against the edge of the sunroof portal. A grinning man kept jamming the edge against the trembling doll as his kids watched in horror. Buckled up below in the back seat, his little girl screamed. For a moment I felt I actually heard the Barbie doll scream. Maybe, in a way, it did.
Moral dilemmas pop up, of course, when you don’t want them to. I mean fast moving ones such as right now something terrible is happening, events are unfolding, life is happening and maybe dying. Moral dilemmas force us to make decisions when we’re caught off guard. As we are always at choice in life, choosing to react blindly or to respond with intention, too often moral dilemmas trigger fight or flight or freeze.
Since this seems to happen to me more than I like, I hate moral dilemmas. And at the same time, oh, what a gift. Yes, these are gifts, each one a lesson in failure to feel into, to study, and to learn from. Part of the practice is for me to let go of remorse and stop beating myself up. In a perceived reality of cause and effect, where our thoughts and emotions lead to action, we are always at choice. Yes, in spite of circumstances, history, ethnicity, gender, religion, abilities, genetics, geography, culture, education, socio-economic class, and the illusion of true free will, you and I are always at choice.
One afternoon I picked up my daughter Morgan from preschool. She’s my oldest of three girls, and at that time my only child. We lived with Gwen, my wife at the time, in an urban cooperative household called Orca Landing. It’s about half a mile away from the Early Learning and Development Center in North Seattle. Sometimes we rode my bike together, or walked, or if I’m in hurry and the weather’s yucky I’ll drive our car.
Rain fell on and off and on again. It was one of those forever-drizzly days before the glory of Summer. In the mild maritime temperatures of Western Washington fall blended into winter into spring and so it’s tough to untangle them in my memory. I had the car. As I went to find Morgan, I recognized a big man, the father of a young boy signing out his little boy. His son was a notorious bully, a problem child for all the staff. The dad was clearly a poor role model as he himself was gruff, growly, and aggressive in his mannerisms.
His heavy moustache reminded me of a rack of Texas longhorns. This man wanted his wee little lad to already “be a Man!” Instead he was a terrible bully as terrified of his own daddy as other kids were of him. I suddenly felt a wave of compassion for the little boy. To my surprise there was also a girl, a younger girl with blonde curls. The little boy’s sister. Uh-Oh. Well, they left, I found Morgan, signed her out, and forgot about the sad family.
We hustled out to the car. I was in a hurry. Quickly, I buckled Morgan into her child seat in the back of the car, and then noticed Morgan frowning out the window. I stood up and looked. Jeesh! We were parked next to the car with the bullyboy and his dad and sister. The sister was strapped into her car seat and crying. Her arms were outstretched up toward something. Oh, my goodness, she wailed!
The father had thrusted her Barbie doll up through the open sunroof window. The glass was retractable. The dad cackled and giggled as he held the doll in the open window with one hand while pushing the button to the sliding window glass hatch with the other. The edge of the window would roll forward as a guillotine and squish the Barbie doll against the edge of the opening. Then the man would cause the window glass to slide back and retract, then crank it forward again to energetically chop the doll baby in half. The little girl was frantic and hysterical while her brother laughed and his Dad giggled. He tortured the doll.
Morgan was horrified. Yes, dolls are inanimate toys. They are not living beings. And Barbie dolls in particular rile up the politically correct. I have my own issues with Ms. Barbie. But we have anthropomorphized dollies and projected our human attributes onto them. Especially young children. To them dolls are real babies. This man in the next car over was torturing his little daughter’s baby. As if he was slowly cutting his own grandchild in half. Poor Barbie!
Now, to be clear, I have no idea what the man’s original intention was. Maybe he had a crazy role-playing idea, saw a teachable moment only he could see, and created an instant scene where Barbie was in terrible trouble and needed to be rescued by Ken. Except I didn’t see any Ken dollies.
I stood there feeling disgusted and wanting to beat the shit out of that guy. He ought to be ashamed of himself! Oh, I felt so self-righteous, indignant, and morally right. Full of blame and shame and judgment. Except I had a full bladder and needed to pee really, really bad. I didn’t want to leave my daughter buckled up in the car next to a crazy fool to run back inside where they had kids waiting in line to use teeny tiny toilets.
“Morgan, we gotta go!” I said as I quickly got into the car and drove us back down the street to Orca Landing.
I expressed outraged to my wife, my fellow coop housemates, and also frustration. Same thing the next morning at the preschool. I did not know what to do and also wanted to protect the kids. I felt flustered I allowed fear to stop me, fear that man had a gun in there and he demonstrated several times he himself was a bully.
There were three kids around, including my only daughter. I was so triggered that I wanted to fight him, but I didn’t consciously desire that. I wondered what I could have done differently, especially to be more effective. If I could stay calm, let go of all the blame and shame, and reason with him? Listen to his story? Or shout in a firm, no-nonsense yet non-threatening or aggressive way “Hey, Mister! Stop! Stop that right now! With all due respect, that’s not acceptable.” Or simply ask him point blank, “Excuse me, Sir, what are you doing?”
If he would retort with “Shuddup, buddy, it ain’t none of your damn business!” I would reply with “The safety of children is everyone’s business. Even in a private place. Shall I call the police?”
Many scenarios ran through my mind too late and after the fact. I beat myself up even though others said for me not to worry, that I probably did the right thing in not triggering him into a rage, and maybe next time simply call the cops and let them take it from there.
“Ya gotta pick your battles,” more than one person preached. “It’s not worth being the target of some idiot’s revenge.”
Lessons to learn all the way around, and yet the next time will most likely be very different as this was from previous moral dilemmas. Very different indeed. Such as about eight years later my family and I were at Dick’s Drive-In Restaurant, a crowded hamburger and french fry landmark down in Wallingford. There were a large number of drunk and rowdy young people there.
As we prepared to leave, one guy walked over to the edge of the parking lot and in front of what seemed like 200 people brazenly exposed himself and pissed in front of everybody, and if he splattered people so be it. I got so angry I wanted to run over there and punch him. Has anything similar ever happened to you? How did you react? Or respond? What would you do differently? What messages am I teaching my kids for which battles are worth fighting for and others aren’t worth the time of day? What about your kids?
William Dudley Bass
Wednesday 13 April 2011
27 March 2012
NOTE: This was first published on 13 April 2011 in my earliest blog, Cultivate and Harvest, at http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2011/04/horror-of-tortured-barbie-doll-blonde.html, then revised and reposted here on my new website this March of 2012. Thank you.
Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.