The Principle of Fairness

Nowadays a bully is despised very much. There has been a big change in British opinion on this question since the last century. Even as late as Kipling, at the very end of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, you can find the idea that a new recruit in the army must be bullied, persecuted and frightened till he is nearly ready to commit suicide. Only then will he be “hardened” and be a good soldier. But now the climate of opinion is quite different. We feel that a man should indeed be hardened, but hardened in combat against opponents of his own level, so that he sometimes wins and sometimes not; or else hardened in struggle with natural obstacles such as heat and cold, lack of sleep and so on. But he should not be subjected to the casual cruelty of those who are senior to him by a year or two.

It is widely believed now that bullying reveals a fundamental weakness of character. There is a saying ” Every bully is a coward at heart “. This is not true in every case, but it is true of many cases. It refers specially to cases where the bully was once a weak man who was relentlessly bullied. He had to nurse his resentment and spite in secret. Later, having attained a position of power, he expresses that spite by bullying someone else. He is compensating for the conviction of weakness which haunts him from the memory of his early days. The strength of feeling against bullying is sometimes surprising. For instance, here is an extract from the Daily Telegraph of April 1971 :

“A 26-year old labourer was jailed for three months after pleading guilty to using threatening behaviour. He was said to have been one of a mob of shouting youth-two gangs facing each other. He was arrested by the police after he had hit someone much smaller than himself.” This was during a national holiday, when there are sometimes fights between rival groups of youths. They are not criminal gangs, but just bored and aggressive young people. The important thing to note is the phrase, “he was arrested by the police after he had hit someone much smaller than himself.” I cannot remember seeing such a phrase in any French or German newspaper.

The example of bullying is often used by British people when they want to emphasize social responsibility. In the so-called “public schools” in England, where the schoolboys live together in the school, there must always be a danger of bullying. The masters find this very difficult to prevent, because it is hard for them to get to know about it. So it is necessary for schoolboys to feel their own responsibility. It is regarded as cowardly to look away and pretend not to see what is happening. When Lord Longford opened a campaign against certain social evils, he said in a speech : ” I know that I am going to meet ridicule and also active opposition. But it is like bullying at school. One sees the bullying and one assumes that the headmaster will do something about it. Then suddenly one realizes that the headmaster is not going to do anything. And one realizes that one cannot just avert one’s eyes and refuse to face the issue. One has to intervene at whatever cost.”

I don’t say that all British people will intervene when they see something wrong. But still, we feel that we ought to do so. And if someone does give a lead, generally there will be a good number in the crowd who will support him.

There is an incident in one of Saiichi Maruya’s novels in which the elder brother evades the draft, and his little brother at school is beaten by a military officer because of the elder brother’s crime. This would be absolutely inconceivable in Britain, even if the elder brother had done something much more serious-had been an active traitor for example. It would be so absolutely contrary to the principle of ” fairness No doubt it could not happen in Japan now either. British schoolboys used to have a famous phrase to describe a very strict master:” He’s a beast, but he’s a just beast.” Provided the strictness is directed equally towards all the pupils, then the schoolboys will respect that master, however strict he is. But if he is unfair, if the punishments do not correspond to actual offences, or if he has favourites and some whom he specially persecutes, then he is not respected.

The mania for fairness in everything can of course go too far, as I have already mentioned. I remember seeing a Japanese university which did not have much money, and there were just two table-tennis tables. The rule was, apparently, that the winner of a match stayed on the table, and the next in the queue came up and challenged him. If the new man won, he would go to the other end of the table and stay there until he was beaten. Of course the effect was, that the two best players simply stayed there for an hour, and all the others came up to play against them.

This could never happen in a British university; each pair (or foursome) would wait in the queue, and each time there would be a complete change. So everyone would get the same time on the table.

But still, I could see a certain advantage in the Japanese system, if the purpose is to attain a high standard of table tennis. Because it meant that everyone, even the weakest player, could have a chance of a game with the champions; whereas with the British system, the good players generally play together, and the weak players also have to play together. Thus the weak players do not necessarily get much chance of improving their game by playing against strong opponents.

I suppose the British view is, that most of the students only wish to play table tennis as an amusement, and the main thing for them is to be able to play with opponents about their own level. The university team should book the table for an hour at some time in the evening to train with each other. That will be better training than playing against weak players. Such would be the British idea.

I am inclined to think that there is something typical here of the difference between the two countries. The British system is on the surface very just and fair. The Japanese system is not so just and fair, but hidden in it there is a certain feeling for the weaker ones, and it does in fact give them some opportunities which they do not get under the absolutely “fair” system.

 

 

 

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