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The Perils of a Plastic Society

06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Imagine this as a crossword puzzle question, with the one hint that it is a four letter word, ironically enough. Okay, if you are not a crossword puzzle person as I am not, I'll give you another hint. The next hint is that it ends in "y." If you can't stand the wait, I'll add that the first letter is "e." Bingo! Right you are, the word is "envy."

Envy is at the heart not only of a great deal of bullying but of much of the susceptibility of those who are targeted. They are usually vulnerable to wanting to be liked and especially so by the "in" crowd." Envy is so obvious that in all the talk about "zero tolerance" it's a surprise the we hardly hear that word. Of course we hardly hear much that is new except that bystanders protesting of bullying occurring in plain site of witnesses, can serve as a deterrent to trauma, physically and psychologically.

I am speaking of the bullying epidemic going on in our school age population, internet and in person. Without apparent awareness, we have effectively cut ourselves off from real focus on the bullying that exists among adults -- including the panic in the hearts and minds of many caretakers, lest an incident occur on their watch. And although I've spoken about the need for us to listen to children, both superficially and more deeply, we stand a chance of this only if we look at the subject from the inside out and listen also to ourselves.

On the cover of this week's TIME Magazine (dated April 12, 2010), the caption above the cover reads in bold print: "Environment Special: The Perils of Plastic". I suggest we take, for a moment, the language of ecology and tilt our globe just a tad to try out these same concepts on human levels. We need to hear the similarities, those best perceived in a quiet space with a fairly open mind.

One example is that the danger of people actually becoming plastic and envying psychologically plastic people is not all that far fetched. In our culture where comparison and fears of being shamed by not measuring up to whatever fashion and fad and guru of the moment is so prominent that people with psychologically toxic levels of plastic shouldn't come as a surprise.

It's hard to believe that it wasn't so long ago that the notion of a mind-body connection was everywhere, making these connections obvious. But now in lieu of deep investigation we tend to prefer quick and strong sounding answers such as "zero tolerance," a word we should consider "plastic" on the level of emotional chemistry and adaptation.

Those of us, for instance, who tremble at Sarah Palin's immense popularity among conservatives, and the truth that she is a serious contender/threat for the Presidency in 2012, might do well to think about this connection.

Think "plastic" for a minute, and summon an image of Palin's quick cutesy responses amidst her winking insults at those not on her side and consider that there is very little serious dialogue, questions and answers but rather loud and raucous slogans, and then more slogans and more winks. This, I would suggest, represents the rule and role of emotional and social plastic in a good part of our nation.

Sarah Palin is a bully at a time where sophisticated plastic responses whether on cue cards or simply on cue have become usual. We can hate her bullying style and lament her popularity but she appeals to many who are so immersed in envy and fear they cannot tell the difference between plastic and truth.

Liberal worship of Obama is fitting here too, very sadly.

In a culture where we are consumed by comparison, we either don't dare reveal the mess of our true selves, or we isolate in environmentally-minded, academic or religious communities, for example. When we block out how much envy is running us, plastic becomes a better way to go. No tears in public unless it's a political apology. No outrageous behavior unless the "criminal" is rich enough to enter rehab and able to construct a heart felt apology which none of us will know is or is not plastic or sincere.

Plastic is our staple, and envy and shame together make us hide behind plastic solutions. If, for example, we should decide to listen to the bullies and the bullied in the headlines of the day, we might have to actually look at whether we are ready to hear the answers and the real and poignant hints of what is going on.

Our kids may be more honest when they know they will be heard, and they are bound to tell us inconvenient truths about ourselves.

Our dependency on plastic is not purely physical; it is the word used for surgery of many of those most of us envy. And sadly it is a word that describes many of us, certainly in how we deal on the outside.

A crossword hint for the question, "What substance does envy breed?" might just be "plastic."

Life, as you know, isn't a crossword puzzle. It's about the next bullying headline before the coming suicide appears on a front page somewhere. It's really about our obligation to look at how bullying has become not only a school sport but a national one. And it's about our need to look into our toxic levels of both envy and plastic.

Remember, we only study what is visible in our rearview mirror. As the saying goes, that from which we do not learn, we will be doomed to repeat. And that which we don't attempt to see, even if it is inconvenient, can never stay steady in our concentration.

I suggest that some of the best or the most willing professionals and children and adults begin to gather and share information about just how much envy and eventually plastic, come to play in a very serious matter, not a game at all.