A matter of death and life

SOMEONE was talking the other day about bullying and “making sure it's always the bully who's punished, not the victim”.It led my brother, a former teacher, to recall an occasion when he was asked to visit the families of two girls after one had been hitting the other (again).

SOMEONE was talking the other day about bullying and “making sure it's always the bully who's punished, not the victim”.

It led my brother, a former teacher, to recall an occasion when he was asked to visit the families of two girls after one had been hitting the other (again).

He said: “Big Sally had hit little Eileen. So Sally's the bully, and Eileen's the victim? Well, yes and no.

“You've heard how psychological bullying can be as bad as, or even sometimes worse than, physical bullying? How true that is.

“Eileen was the prime mover in a group of posh girls who teased Sally unmercifully about her accent and grammar. Sally was a big, clumsy girl. She had no friends in the top sets, although she was in top set for everything except English. She didn't have many friends in the school at all.

“Most of the posh parents wanted Sally expelled and kept saying we were being soft on bullying. What can you do?”

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There is clearly a strong element of class in this story. Sally, it seems, ended up in a fairly menial factory job, though my brother believed she was capable of much better.

It certainly illustrates the point that bullying is seldom as straightforward an issue as it seems.

Every case needs to be looked at individually - and both the bully and the victim need to be considered.

It's not just that it's not always immediately obvious which is which.

Take my friend's son Barry (as in the case above, I've changed the names).

He is constantly subjected to teasing and he also gets physically bullied, though it's often hard to tell how badly. The trouble is that he's such an easy target. Easy to wind up so that he's the one who gets into trouble for reacting.

He also cries easily, which is a certain magnet for the malicious.

And because he complains so often, he's like the boy who cried wolf. If one day he is ever badly hurt or seriously ill-treated, no one is likely to believe him.

None of this excuses those who pick on him, but he has always been a self-appointed victim.

One can only hope he learns to toughen up. In the meantime it demonstrates again that there are two sides to every story.

And it may not just be the bullies, or apparent bullies, who are the problem.

THERE is something magical about Easter - and I mean that in the very fullest and deepest sense.

It's a truly movable feast, tied to the calendar in a much more arcane and magical way than, say, Christmas or any saint's day.

For a long time I thought Easter Sunday was always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. If that calculation doesn't tell you it has pagan roots in a lunar religion older than Christianity, then your eyes and your mind are as closed as George Bush's.

But actually, although nearly right, I wasn't exactly right. There are two more factors to take into account in determining exactly when Easter will fall.

For one thing the starting date is always March 20, which happened to be the date of the equinox in AD325, when the system was worked out. The true equinox is more often March 21 and can be March 22.

And rather than the true full moon, the Christian calendar uses something called the ecclesiastical full moon. It's based on a table drawn up by astronomers in 325, which is pretty good, but can be up to three days out.

Eastern Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, which was replaced here by the Gregorian one (which we still use) in 1582.

At that point, East and West diverged by 11 days - which is why, incidentally, Russia's October Revolution took place in November by our calendar.

The result is that the Orthodox Easter is a week or two later than ours. Usually.

This year it happens to be the same. So happy Easter, then, to all our friends in Greece and Russia.

Easter also happens to coincide this year with the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach.

So it's a real alignment of the Judaeo-Christian planets, if you'll forgive a pagan allusion.

While most Christian countries use some form of Passion (from Pesach) as their word for Easter, our word apparently comes from Eostre, supposedly a pre-Christian goddess of spring and fertility.

Whichever way you look at it, the celebration of death and rebirth associated with the equinox is almost certainly thousands of years older than Christianity.

I wouldn't wish to deny the literal truth of Christ's crucifixion. The resurrection, though, I take to be symbolic - as I'm sure most of the early Christians did.

Whatever the facts may have been, the whole story has a “truth” about it that's far more ancient.

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