Day 7 – Logroño to Nájera (29.4 km)
Nájera, 30 km west of Logroño, was the next overnight stop. On leaving Logroño I crossed an immensely large public park with natural surroundings. A huge lake stretched far into the distance, there were mountains, mostly covered with forests, picnic spots and playgrounds, other facilities were dotted about and buildings were available for recreational purposes. In summer this must be paradise; a most beautiful and relaxing place.
When I passed through, the landscape was white and the path iced up, slippery, most treacherous and difficult for me to navigate. Wherever possible I walked in the deeper snow on the verges, so that I was able to find some grip underfoot, although this called for ducking below tree branches at times. When I say slippery, I mean that the path consisted of iced-up compacted snow. It was most hazardous and, before I knew it, I was sitting or lying flat with legs sprawling in all directions. It took a long time before I found a way of dealing with these conditions, which did not seem to bother a sprinkle of joggers, some of whom passed me at impressively high speeds.
Notwithstanding these conditions, the walk over Alto Grajera to Navarette was wonderful in this white landscape, and the church I came across was even more impressive than the one I had seen in Viana. It had an even larger and more elaborate gold-framed altar wall than I had encountered earlier on and, when I dropped a coin into a slot, the apse lit up and displayed glory and wealth.
Today four hills had to be tackled, nothing drastic – merely an undulating countryside. Logroño lies at an elevation of 390 m, Alto Grajera at 530 m, Navarette at 540m, Ventosa at 600 m, Alto Poyo de Roldan at 610 m and Nájera, our destination, at 510 m. This does not sound like much, but after each peak there is a river valley to cross and once you have walked the day’s distance of almost thirty kilometre, you know what you have achieved. At times the path was less frozen and the muddy clay became a challenge, but the gorge between Alto de San Anton and Royo de Roldan was beautiful and mystical with its dense bushes on either side powdered white. This was the place where, according to a 9th century legend, Roldan slew the Muslim giant Farragut with a rock. His good aim liberated the Christians and released the military pressure on several knights of Charlemagne’s army, who were trapped behind enemy lines.
This is another David and Goliath story: the weak but courageous can overcome the big bully, which brings me to the subject of bullying in general:
Why are ‘bullies’ so powerful? Dictators and leaders in history, individuals in neighbourhoods, colleagues at work and classmates in schools have the tendency to act as bullies and get away with their uncivil behaviour. They make life difficult.
Bullies display a misplaced over-confidence which more often than not serves to conceal a dire lack of real confidence in who they are. They are manipulating and brazen and have no qualms about intimidation and ruthlessness. To achieve their goals, if questioned, they can be easily and deeply offended, which makes reasoning impossible. They become defensive, followed by being offensive and accusatory, often having a tendency of changing uncomfortable topics at hand, avoiding meaningful discussions.
Bullies may have a certain charisma which attracts their type of followers, but once they have established themselves, they will not shy away from displaying manipulative and treacherous behaviour. They can be vindictive and emotionally and physically threatening. The result is intimidation. If the bully seeks to become a leader of large communities or even a country, the consequences can be devastating. History, even recent events, provide pertinent examples of domination, causing rule of law disintegrating and societies to suffer terrible consequences.
Do we have a bully within us? Does this dominating behaviour form part of our inherent human nature? Is it based on the array of negative emotions which we still harbour and have to come to grips with on our evolutionary path? Is bullying predominantly a male characteristic driven by testosterone? General observations might suggest this to be the case, however, depending on the definition of bullying, this view might be challenged.
It is within the character of a person to be a bully and what makes bullying so unpleasant, even dangerous, is the fact that the bullying tactics are mostly intentional. Lying, exaggerating or withholding information may be an aspect, a way of gaining a misplaced advantage.
Bullies also find ways to hold us at ransom. In politics this is regularly accompanied by unrealistic promises, displays of splendour and cheap appeals to peoples’ emotions. They love to paint a rosy picture of what we can expect from them, or they might threaten with unpleasant scenarios, demonstrating a lack of respect for the other person’s freedom and opinion.
During the 16th century the word ‘bully’ meant sweetheart and probably originated from the Dutch word ‘boel’ – lover or brother – or from the old German word ‘Buhle’ which means a ‘companion’. The meaning of many English words changed over time and in the process the word bully came to mean a ‘fine fellow’, then a ‘blusterer’ and finally a ‘harasser of the weak’ – which is what bullying more or less portrays nowadays. Harassing of the weaker is what it is all about and a bully can instinctively recognize potential victims.
I wonder if the original Dutch word ‘boel’ (for lover) has changed its meaning as a result of peoples’ experiences. In ‘romantic love’ bullying behaviour and manipulation can be used to solicit trust, to gain sexual favours, or to bind the other irrevocably to the relationship. It is the loving and trusting victim, not being able to recognize the bullying forces, probably misjudging them for concern, protectiveness or genuine love, who in the end gets hurt and ends up devastated in the process.
True love should be all-embracing; it can never be manipulative, demanding or intolerant. True love does not depend on what we receive – especially not in favours or material gains. It also should not depend on changing the other in order to comply with one’s own ideas and images ‒ how that person should think, communicate, be and behave – although this is a very common phenomenon. Love should not depend on what others can do for us, nor does genuine love develop through pity or charity and certainly not through calculated motives. As we stand at present, and with our limited awareness, these factors are more common than we think and the results are invariably painful.
In the animal world sex occurs when both parties are in agreement and rape is unheard of. Does this mean that animals experience a form of spiritual connection when choosing their partner or perform their mating rituals? Maybe for that short time they also experience a form of love. But what about pairs in the animal world that mate for life? They surely must experience a deep connection and if so, is their connection less problematic than ours is at times?
The recent financial meltdown and related practices in commerce also point to bullying. One has to wonder how the highly proclaimed free-market economy is able to fail the vast majority of its participants so spectacularly, while bringing such enormous and mindboggling benefits to a minuscule few amongst us.
Obviously all manner of crime, petty or serious, is part of the bullying agenda. Bullying is consequently not only happening at school or at the workplace; it has a much wider spectrum of applications, manifesting in all walks of life. History is full of examples: even in the last decade we saw unfortunate examples of national and international bullying, the disastrous consequences of which are now haunting us.
Genuine love is another fascinating occurrence, which, when it bites us, renews us in a most positive way – hopefully for a long time. When we are in love we tolerate and endure far more than we normally would. We are transformed; we see glory and, by living in love’s paradise, we can lose reality. When love is healthy, it provides purpose and drive and offers unrestricted access to our being and to the person we love. We are convinced that we have found what we have instinctively been looking for all along; we have found a human connection – a mate and a home.
In many cultures, including parts of the Islamic world, men still bully women because they are perceived to be inferior or they regard controlling women or restricting women’s movements as their right. Some men consider violent behaviour such as rape to be their prerogative. Only the use of greater mindful behaviour can eradicate this. Any form of manipulation in supposedly true, honest and open love surely is misplaced.
The more conscious a society, the better it will be able to handle bullies and diminish their influence, which again demonstrates the importance of growth in awareness. Should becoming more conscious not be a compulsory subject at school?
To answer the question I raised at the outset regarding gender participation in bullying: both men and women can be bullies, although blame usually points to men and this is a fact we cannot be proud of.
I had my own bullying experiences when I was around fourteen years old. We had a bully in our class. He was quite tall and chubby and had an eye on me. I was an average kid, excelling only in music, which hardly counted. One day, when he verbally taunted and physically abused me again, I gave him an unexpected punch and one of his front teeth came loose. He never bothered me again. After this incident I gained sufficient confidence to become the best in sport in my age group at school – not that this was a great achievement: the school was in a small town and competition was limited.