You would normally expect that if someone acted in a certain way, it would be possible to give an explanation of their actions in terms of the reasons why; unfortunately this is not always the case.
There are times when we are left analysing the situation to the point where we start to lose perspective, but we continue anyway in the hope that we can eventually make some kind of explanation fit. We have all done this before.
If you were in Neil Lennon’s position, I think it would be entirely natural that you would want to understand why you have been subject to constant abuse and threatening behaviour from other individuals who know nothing about you. It is natural that sympathetic observers of this abuse would want to fathom it out too, particularly when the episodes are repulsive and unprovoked, such as the most recent one from some Aberdeen supporters.
There is a great deal of mileage in Neil Lennon’s situation for those in the media with false axes to grind, or for whom creating an impression of professional closeness to him seems to have become a bit of a fixation. Whatever the motive, stories of this sort seem to sell newspapers.
We have been told that the abuse directed at Neil Lennon might be down to his ethnicity or his religion; we have also been told that it might be down to him simply being a controversial, confrontational and combative character who happens to attract bigots. This just keeps the story going.
Whether the people in the media or the ordinary man in the street find it best to put the abuse Neil Lennon suffers down to his temperament or his teeth, the various explanations offered do very little to shed any light on what is actually going on, or therefore how to deal with it effectively. We are asking the wrong sorts of questions.
The abuse directed at Neil Lennon is completely irrational; I think we all agree about that. There is no valid reason why Neil Lennon should figure in our thinking as someone towards whom it is appropriate to be violent or threatening. This is borne out retrospectively when the abusers in question are pressed for an explanation of their behaviour. More often than not they cannot give a rational explanation, other than that they just don’t like him, or that he brings it on himself, regardless of the language they originally used to express their hatred.
It is perhaps closer to the truth to understand the majority of abuse directed at Neil Lennon as examples of unthinking hooliganism that bears striking similarities to bullying. As with targets of bullying, it would appear that Neil Lennon has tried to change his public persona to make himself less of a target. This is an indication of deep emotional intelligence on his part; it is an alertness to how other people perceive him – justified or not – and a subconscious desire to make personal changes in order that this type of behaviour towards him stops.
There are groups of people in our society who behave like thugs and bullies, and sometimes only in very specific contexts, because they have been caught up in a moment in which their ability to rationalise their behaviour has been diminished by the effects of alcohol, drugs, sporting adrenalin or basic tribal machismo. The rest of the time, and towards other people, they can be perfectly reasonable and likeable individuals.
It is too easy to read more into these situations than is warranted by the evidence, just because it happens to sell stories or suit an agenda. This is bad enough in itself. But the big problem with this is that we run the risk of being part of the bullying process itself, rather than just a horrified observer and sympathetic reporter of it.
When you try hard to find a way of rationally linking this type of behaviour to something within the victim that attracts it, there is a sense in which you are legitimising it. You are unwittingly creating the emotional space for it to continue, forcing the person being targeted to make one or more of the changes they begin to believe are necessary to neutralise the effects of these apparent reasons.
If you try to depict Neil Lennon as some kind of controversial warrior, a magnet for bigots because of his ethnicity, religious beliefs or personality, or perhaps even a potent combination of these factors in a specific place and time, you are just as guilty of keeping the tedious and regretful narrative going as the individuals are who started it.
This is not to say that we should be silent on this, not by a long shot; rather it is to say that if we remain compelled to find one or three reasons why Neil Lennon attracts this type of behaviour, we may need to think about our own contribution to the problem, however unintended this may be.