The Plague of Bullying
Interview with Meri Lolini, Author of Una vipera in corpo
(A Viper in the Body)
Maria Teresa De Donato
In recent years we have witnessed the escalation of a phenomenon that – although already present in the past – seems to have reached frightening and completely unexpected proportions: we are talking about bullying and the fact that this has become a scourge especially among children and adolescents.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I happened to personally witness bullying from time to time, even though it was very different back then. Usually, it was a matter of some children or teenagers making fun of another – either a boy or a girl – who they thought was not so good looking, or somehow overweight, or wearing glasses or was not particularly good at engaging in a certain physical or sporting activity. It was very rare to see someone being teased because of his/her own disability.
Times have changed drastically and unfortunately not for the better. As a result, bullying, which once consisted primarily of teasing someone for one reason or the other, has become today, in too many cases, pure violence. What is happening all over the world, even if it seems that our western countries are holding the unfortunate record of it, is really scary and extremely disturbing.
It is with great pleasure, therefore, that today I wish to introduce you, just to discuss this issue, my dear friend and colleague Meri Lolini, Author of numerous books, who recently published Una vipera in corpo (A Viper in the Body), a fiction novel that more than the result of her fantasy, thanks to the scientific rigor due to the author's cultural and professional background, seems not only to be a thriller, but by using a fluent and pleasant language, even more so a detailed report of crime news written at the police station.
MTDD: Hi Meri and thank you for participating in this interview.
ML: I am very happy with your invitation to have a chat about the subject I deal with in my last novel and therefore I thank you for this opportunity.
MTDD: Meri, tell us a little bit about yourself, your professional and personal experiences and how you became a writer.
ML: I was born in Maremma and precisely in Massa Marittima in the province of Grosseto. Since I was a child I have always been attracted to mathematics and science and so I studied at the ITI "Bernandino Lotti" obtaining the diploma of industrial chemist which allowed me to always work in laboratories of analysis, at the beginning dealing with inorganic and later, for almost thirty years, with organic chemistry. I performed the dosage of organic micro-pollutants in both food and environmental matrices. Organic micro-pollutants are carcinogenic molecules and the best known is the famous dioxin together with polychlorobiphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. I worked on many research projects to develop analytical methods for these substances. Passion has always guided me in this activity, giving me the desire and strength to study, compare and evaluate in order to come up with new methods of approaching these substances. I collaborated in the study of sampling and analysis of emissions from waste-to-energy plants, climbing many chimneys all over Italy and working with colleagues from many regions. For this activity I met many colleagues, women and men, with whom I shared my passion for this work and many friendships were born. I retired this year in May. I have been married for thirty-nine years, have two children and two granddaughters. I started writing, throwing down some thoughts or memories, but I never thought of writing a book. Then something suddenly snapped. Speaking with a friend of mine who pointed out to me how it was possible that I had never thought about writing, I told her that I had something already written and so we read it together and the first novel was born, which was published in 2014. So far, I have published eight books, six of which with Aracne Publisher. I have been collaborating with Class24, which is an online magazine in Orbassano (Turin), by writing a variety of articles.
MTDD: You are the author of many books that deal with different topics. How and why did you decide to write a novel about bullying?
ML: This answer will be a little articulated. I would like readers to ask themselves a question: "Where is the writer when he writes?" I like to think that when I write I am in a privileged position, that is, I am "at the window on the world". In fact, it is from this place that I can see what is in the panorama, what the characters do, what their behaviors are and choose what to talk about and what is the topic worthy of attention. When I write I am alone in front of my computer and I decide how to write and what to write and the doubt in writing a story is always the same: "Will it be understandable, interesting, entertaining and, above all, how will it help?" It should be a source of reflection and comparison and, on the occasion of the various presentations that will be made of that novel, it should be a means to talk about and discuss that problem. So, with my thoughts I addressed the issue of family custody, gender-based violence, migrants, alcoholism and bullying. I wrote a book on the contamination of the food chain and one on waste treatment. Here, from my window on the world I saw that it was necessary to deal with the harmful behaviors kept by bullies against their victims and, therefore, I put it in a detective story so that it was addressed to a wider audience and we hope that it will also be read in schools, where there are so many kids to train and educate.
MTDD: In the introduction, I referred to the way bullying turned from the years of our childhood until today, unfortunately changing for the worse. The origin of bullying, however, seems to be much older ...
ML: In the introduction of this novel I quote this thought of Pythagoras who says: "Educate children and it will not be necessary to punish men" and I believe that at the base of everything it is necessary to reflect and adopt this starting point of the construction of the gigantic sculpture called HUMANITY. The term bully is also found in the work of Tommaso Garzoni from 1585 which is entitled "The universal square of all professions in the world". This term is included in a dictionary by Alfredo Panzini, who defines the bully in the Roman voice: “smargiasso, bravaccio, teppista” (braggart, bravado, thug). The definition of bully in Italy has a meaning that softens the gravity of the violence and oppression that it wants to denounce. The bully, in the usual sense, is the "gradasso" (boaster), that is, one who put on airs, but does not necessarily prevail over the others, indeed often the term "bully, little bully" has a positive meaning, an affectionate mockery. However, it is necessary to set aside this meaning to understand the problem: the bully is a boy or a girl who performs acts of bullying towards a peer exploiting the fact of being somewhat superior to him/her; these bullying acts are not occasional, but are repeated over time, taking the form of a real persecution.
The bully can act individually or in the company of others, who like him offend and persecute their victim. It is possible to identify the dominant bully and the gregarious ones who support their leader and contribute to the various offensive actions that their victim suffers.
MTTD: Through the psychologist Carolina, a character in your novel, you explain some aspects of bullying, including the dynamics that trigger it and the attitudes assumed by both the various types of bullies and the victims. Without revealing too many details, which we want to let the readers of your novel discover, can you hint at what is hiding behind bullying, according to the research you have done in the field? Is it just an aggressive behavior on the part of the bully or something else?
ML: Carolina Savi is the psychologist and it is she with her competence who informs Police Commissioner Mariani of the conditions that are created between the bully and his/her victim and with her competence supports the structure of the investigations. During the meetings at the police station, Carolina talks about how the behaviors and types of relationship between mother and children can create the conditions for the child to reveal himself/herself as a bully or a victim. The issue of self-esteem that people have of themselves, thus leading them to play one role or the other, is addressed. It takes a look at the book Cuore (Heart) by Edmondo de Amicis, where the "bully" Franti, who at that time used to make fun of his schoolmates, is introduced. Furthermore, Carolina examines the definition of the Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus: "A student is the object of bullying actions, or is bullied or victimized, when he/she is exposed, repeatedly over time, to the offensive actions carried out by one or more companions." Thanks to Carolina the appearance of bullying is seen from various angles and images are taken of both the bully and his/her victim.
MTTD: Are there features that bullying victims have in common and how can these people be helped?
ML: A characterization of bullying victims has been drafted. They can be passive or submissive victims and this type of person signals to others the impossibility of reacting and their inability to react is very obvious. These people have low self-esteem and a negative opinion of themselves, the victimized children are anxious and insecure, often cautious, sensitive and calm. If attacked, they react by closing in on themselves. There is, however, another group of victims: the provocative victims, characterized by a combination of anxious and aggressive modes of reaction. They can be hyperactive, restless and offensive. Being a victim of bullying is, however, at all ages, an extremely stressful situation that pushes the subject to an emotional, psychological collapse, laying the foundations for even serious long-term disorders. The subject, no longer trusting others, will tend to isolate him-/herself and, in some cases, even end up humiliated in order to try to manage the situation or have serious problems with social relations. The suffering of the victim can also lead them to perform extreme acts such as suicide. Hence, it is necessary to understand where and how to intervene. Research has shown that schools and families are the most important socialization groups useful for preventing bullying; at the same time, however, they can become the main cause that triggers it. An in-depth study, conducted by Loeber and Hay in 1997, found that several family factors, such as poor parental supervision, irregular monitoring, harsh parenting, parental inconsistency, parenting disharmony, rejection of parents and the low involvement of parents with the child, all appear to be related to conduct problems. I conclude by reiterating that we must pay close attention to the environment where people are born and grow and where they meet to study and train.
MTDD: Parents of bullies who try to justify their children 's aggressive, arrogant and even violent behavior towards their victims, stating that they are "kids' jokes" or that the victim is the one to blame, certainly do not help their children to assume their responsibilities, change conduct, and avoid even the worst considering that many victims of bullying come to a point of no-return by opting, sad to say, for suicide. What can we say to these parents and also to witnesses of bullying, even violent ones, who simply observe without intervening and how this novel of yours The Viper in the Body can be useful in educating and allowing greater awareness of this plague called bullying?
ML: As I said earlier, bullying should not be ignored and underestimated for the damage it does to its victims who suffer material, moral damages up to tragic consequences. We need to maintain a continuous focus so that it is not identified as a trivial joke, but rather as a crime against people. It is a criminal offense for consequent beatings and injuries and certainly for the moral damage perpetrated with injuries and defamations often accompanied by threats and harassment. I conclude by reiterating that the environments where our children grow, and study must be very careful and present. So, we work well both in families and in schools. I tried to give some information with my novel.
MTDD: Thank you, Meri, for being my guest on this blog. Those who wish to do so, how can they order your novel or another of your publications?
ML: They will find the volume both in the portal of the ARACNE Publishing Company and on Amazon and if they wish to exchange some messages with me, I am on Facebook.
Thank you, Maria Teresa, for this moment of sharing and I greet all those who will read both this interview and my novel.