The first time it was used on me I was shirtless, bleeding profusely from a split-open cheek, pissed beyond measure, and standing in front of a lieutenant who was proving to be every bit as psychotic as his reputation claimed he was.
He had narrow little ferret eyes, sharp nose, and a severe boot camp-like buzz cut he sported in the very thin hope he would be mistaken for an army officer in the bars around Ft. Devens. Instead of a glorified prison guard. Which is what he was.
That kind of guy was perpetually irate and I was making it infinitely worse by not giving him what he wanted. That I couldn’t give him what he wanted meant nothing to him and just pushed him closer to all out fury.
Finally he broke, could take my intransience no longer, came up with the ultimate threat, “Hey, asshole, you know that three years you’re supposed to have on probation . . . well, we can take it . . . yeah, we can keep you here another three years, whaddaya think of that?”
There it was, the “We’ll take it . . .” gambit, mantra of a particular brand of bully. The ‘it’ is always a right or privilege already earned. The threat is from a person with power employing ‘we’ to indicate some sort of institutional authority. And credibility.
It’s the staple of mediocre movies, the kind that lack the imagination to create tension in another way. A perfect example of this is Varsity Blues. Jon Voight’s high school coach, an unquestioned authority figure, is confronted by *gasp* a questioning teenager (and second-stringer to boot). Coach’s way of dealing with the perceived threat to his authority? Empathy? A reasoned exchange of views? Healthy arguing? Nope, he takes the bully path – he drags the kid into his office, brandishes a piece of paper in his face and says, “This is your scholarship to Brown . . . we’ll take it from you unless . . .”
This is pre-social media/search-everything-on-Google days so while the kid suspects it’s bullshit, he’s not sure. That Coach is a dick who will stop at nothing to get his way has been long established. So, absent an authority figure of his own or, god forbid, a lawyer to fight back the kid has no choice. He has to cave.
The ‘we’ll take it’ bully attack is most effective where the threat can’t be immediately tested. It should be no surprise that it’s rampant in the criminal justice system …. no, that’s wrong – it’s epidemic in the ‘system. Judges, guards, counselors, prosecutors, public defenders, I’ve seen them all employ it.
He took my response as wavering, moved in for the kill, “Yeah, Hicks you didn’t think of that, bet you’re thinking about it now.”
Smug, nasty, the-bully-wins-another-one smile gashed his face, disappeared in an instant when I answered, “I’m thinking they didn’t teach us that in law school.”
That was it. Done. The only defense against the ‘We’ll take it’ is knowledge. I fell for it later, when a judge did it, but then, there I had the satisfaction of seeing the bully give up – though he didn’t even have the good grace to be the least bit embarrassed or chagrined at what was really an enormous, evil fucking lie.