This is my second attempt at writing a blog post about bullying. Just as the previous one regarding surfing came forth pleasurably from the tips of my fingers; this one about the age old human sickness of abusing others for personal gain or sometimes for no reason at all oozes from my fingers like blood. Maybe I’ll share with you the worst examples of bullying I’ve had directed at me. . . . No. I can’t. They’re all horrible in their own way and, though I will share a couple below, it’s far better to start off positively about it all. I recently noticed a post on Facebook by the Labor federal government addressing the challenge of bullying, particularly in schools – where on the not yet developed mind of a child it can have its worst impacts. On this post I wrote, probably not verbatim ‘I’m convinced bullying is something that could never be fully stamped out and would simply tell my child “Don’t worry. It’s highly likely the person bullying you will end up being the person who one day empties your septic tank or cleans your pool”.’ No offence intended to pool cleaners or septic tank workers out there (unless you were or still are a bully). Especially in a capitalist society, bullying is something that can only be controlled and never eliminated, so the key really is how you deal with it.
When I was in Grade 6 a bully would most afternoons after the school bell had rung steal my hat. He would run away with it and I would chase him until he gave it back – usually by throwing it aside and continuing to run away. One day I must have tried more aggressively to regain it before he decided to give it back so, for my troubles, he punched me a few times in the stomach. Thankfully, I was not terribly often physically abused during primary school. I was often simply a little bit outcast by my peers, which I didn’t always mind because I was an introverted and bookish child. I was also short and not particularly keen on physical sports, though I excelled at many athletics events. The problem with school, which I probably already recognised at least subconsciously at the time, was that I was forced to interact with the sorts of people I could and would choose to avoid during adult life. I’ve learned since school that it was my perceived weaknesses that bullies exploited. My shortness, my socially withdrawn and nerdish – even if only when it came to books – ways were like red flags to them. It taught me a valuable lesson: weaknesses, if they can’t be strengthened, should be hidden from those seeking to abuse them. Of course it’s difficult for a child to have that sort of comprehension. I never even subconsciously accepted their apparent appraisal of me as a weakling, and would sometimes enlighten them of that fact. Once again during primary school, while a particularly large and moronic bully was hassling me, I pulled his arm behind his back and applied pressure to his strained elbow. Then I told him to leave me alone. He did from then on. I recall running into him many years later during New Years Eve. I mentioned his name in recognition, and he immediately erupted into violent anger. His friends had to drag him away, and I didn’t need to be told to keep walking. Leopards rarely change their spots. Primary school would have been the worst phase of bullying for me, and I think either I was too young to remember many incidents or I have simply suppressed the memories. Apparently people are able to remember further back into their childhood as they get older. There’s something to look forward to. One thing about primary school I’m philosophical about, however, is that there couldn’t have been a lot of intelligence, or at least maturity, behind the abuse. It was for the most part simply childish ignorance. During high school, however, there was a noticeable shift in the phenomenon.
That physical weakness had begun to desert me proved fortuitous during high school. The bullies remained largely unchanged though. You notice their similarities when you’re forced to suffer enough of their abuse. They were usually but not always large, often experienced trouble at home and were generally at a similar level of the school social pecking order; but more belligerent about expressing their feelings on their social standing. Ugly, too. I can’t think of anyone I’ve been bullied by who hasn’t either had an ugly face or an ugly heart – or both. Besides size I was also happy that adolescence had decided to bestow me with better looks than I’d had as a pre-teen. Size and fighting competence were the main defensive weapons with which to ward off bullying in high school, though. Three incidents come to mind, all during Year 8 and all in response to physical abuse. In the first I believe I was having an argument with a bloke who had sometimes but not often bullied me. Suddenly, he slapped me. I responded by punching him in the face three times. He walked off crying to a nearby seat. In the second I was being repeatedly pushed into a garden by a guy with the same IQ as the plants in it. I lost control of my temper and punched him a few times. He took the punches then walked away. The third time, a guy who had developed a habit of trying – usually not very hard – to push my head into walls on this occasion used his backpack to push my head, hard, into the corner of a brick bag shelf outside a classroom. I turned around and punched him probably five times, until a teacher came out of the classroom and put a stop to the incident. Almost got suspended over that one. At the end of the day the bastard knew he was in the wrong, and all pressure on me evaporated quickly enough. None of them laid a hand on me again and I was never again forced to fight violence with violence. High school bullying had become a crude political tool through which the weak were suppressed, the strong impressed and the aloof ruled. Similar to the lower, middle and upper classes of broader society, the aloof for whatever socio-economic reason directed the script, the strong carried it out by force or taunt, and the weak suffered it. Fortunately, I felt no inclination to become a pawn in this game and high school proceeded and was completed easily enough.
For a kind of darkly humorous break, I’ll mention one high school bullying incident which in hindsight was bizarrely funny. I and my group of friends at the time used to sit on a foot high brick wall that retained a small patch of grass overlooking the school oval. One day quite randomly a thug and his two henchmen from another group decided they wanted to sit there. This was schoolyard turf war at its most raw. Every one of my mates moved when prompted menacingly by these guys – except me. So the thug decided to choke me, while my supposed friends looked on rather indifferently. He squeezed my throat with both hands and pushed me down on to the grass behind the retaining wall. I remember looking into his eyes while only resisting enough so the assault wasn’t terribly painful, and thinking: “What the fuck? Is this guy going to kill me over school grounds territory?” Soon, he let go. And the douchebag trio walked away. I’m not sure if this incident and the way I handled it improved my standing within the group or the greater school population, but I’m glad I stood my ground. I’m betting that guy is doing a lot worse than pumping septic tanks or cleaning suburban pools now, though. In fact he’s probably in jail.
As an adult, bullying has been a little more random, due to the complexity of post-school life. And it’s generally more subtle, such as in the form of gossip. I’ve still, at 28, spent more of my life in public school, if you count pre-school and kindergarten, than I have out. But let’s see. . . . Oh yes: there’s friendship bullying. This is when the good-natured ribbing common between friends steps over the line to become something in which one friend puts the other down in order to boost their own sense of power. Probably every friend I’ve had is guilty of this at some time for whatever reason, and so too have I been. Work is a big place for adult bullying. One day at probably about 2am I, as second in charge of the department, was preparing the Surfers Paradise Coles fresh produce section for Saturday trading. The bell for the loading dock rang and, according to an internal phone call from the young bloke staffing the dock, it turned out to be my shipment of about three or four pallets of fruit and veggies. So I transferred the plastic-wrapped pallets from the dock to the prep room; then stood there looking at them and trying to figure out where to start. It was about then I could sense someone in the room with me, and turned around. It was the dock dude. He looked angry. Indeed he was, and he confronted me about why he had to answer the door to my shipment of stock. I remained silent and a little angry in response to the absurdity of the question, and he eventually walked off. He quit soon after, and word was just about everyone else he came in to contact with had not experienced much of a sunny disposition from him. Another work bullying incident came from a very immature yet (physically) attractive yet superficial yet intelligent and still yet narcissistic young woman I worked in an office with. I must have left work earlier than her one Friday, because when I worked the following Sunday with another colleague, I discovered the word ‘gay’ written in large red pen on a piece of my stationery. She to this day has never apologised for it. And after she learned I’d mentioned it to my boss she seemed more worried about whether I had mentioned her name (which I hadn’t) than whether I had been offended or hurt by her actions. Fortunately, we no longer work together and I can choose to avoid her. Which I do. Gleefully 🙂
Bullying is an illness passed from the perpetrator to the victim. It is not often passed between victims. Indeed victims even in adult life tend not to deliberately associate with each other, or at least just not in the context of that which they’ve suffered. The reason bullying is a transferable illness is because even though a victim may not become a bully, the abuse will still leave its mark in the form of depression or any number of other psychological disorders. And whether they like it or not these ill effects will impact on the people in victims’ lives. And around and around the not-so-merry-go-round goes. A simultaneous positive and negative for bullying victims is that the abuse teaches them an important lesson from a young age: trust no-one. Obviously this leads to a certain amount of innocence lost. But it can also teach a healthy amount of targeted rage. The reason I was bullied was because I was the small kid. Around this core weakness all others perceivable were exploited at the various bullies’ leisure. I suspect even today some people who were bullies during school have some kind of sense that I was a victim at school, and will try to have a go at practising their early reinforced abusive activities on me. They can try their fucking luck as far as I’m fucking concerned. The most important and longest lasting lesson bullying taught me was the importance of hiding weakness, even though I find a certain amount of self-deprecating humour is also important. No-one likes a bloke who thinks the sun shines out his arse. Well, outlaw bikie gang members and nut-job-rich-bastards like Charles Saatchi (husband and alleged physical assaulter of Nigella Lawson) and Chris Brown seem to do ok with the fairer sex, I must admit. But there’s no way I’m interested in the sorts of women who are interested in aggressive men (though it is important for me to state that I don’t think women who are attracted to aggressive men in any way invite, provoke, condone, enjoy or deserve domestic violence that might be directed toward them by such men, or anyone). Women who attract and are attracted to aggressive men – such as my colleague mentioned above – may be the type liable to engage in emasculating abuse toward men, like me, who actually respect women. I don’t deserve such treatment, don’t condone it and will never tolerate it. And should it ever again be directed at me it will only serve to strengthen me, and weaken its perpetrator.