What to do about bullying -- in schools, in the work place, in families, in society in general?
It's a question that's fashionable at the moment and deplored by everyone. But bullying is a reality that has many forms.
Like the weather, bullying is not going to go away. It is always there. Those who are victimized must learn to cope, or surrender to it. Most people, as they grow older, can remember instances where they were bullied -- but few remember themselves ever doing the bullying.
Crackdowns by schools, and laws and penalties imposed for bullying will not work. They may change the style of bullying, but won't eliminate the practice. Bullying is an aspect of life and a particular concern in schools.
When bullying becomes a headline issue, it is pathological, serious bullying rather than schoolyard teasing. But the latter prepares one for the former. I don't really remember being bullied much as a kid. I certainly never bullied -- though I was regarded (especially by my sister) as a tease which, looking back, can be a form bullying. Words can be more hurtful than deeds.
As an army brat, I changed schools regularly, as my father was posted elsewhere. Arriving at a new school in the middle of the year meant you quickly had to find your place in the class hierarchy. This often meant fighting the class bully at recess, as other kids watched and judged your worth. In those days I quite liked fighting, and instinctively realized that if you were intimidated, life would be harder. My big fear was getting bopped on the nose, causing tears to flow. I didn't want kids to get the wrong idea about tears. I wasn't crying. Tears just happened when the nose was bopped.
My parents never fussed about kids fighting. My father despised bullies and insisted they were all cowards. I learned young that this wasn't necessarily so. Many bullies lust for fighting -- preferably (but not necessarily) against those who didn't fight back.
At Prince of Wales school in Barrie, when my young sister was bullied, I'd trail her and when she was confronted I'd attack. She'd join in, and was a wildcat. I wanted her to be permanent bully-bait, but she objected. I felt let down.
Years later, when my son was bullied in school and wondered what to do, my advice was do nothing. When harassment got to the point where he felt the need to fight back, I advised him not to threaten or posture, but to give one warning for the other kid to stop "or else."
When the warning was ignored (as it usually is), I advised him to quickly hit the other kid on the nose as hard as he could. He did this, blood and tears flowed, the teacher got involved, but the bullying ceased forever.
Nervously, I asked what was the final straw that provoked the punch?
"He called me an awful name. I had to do something."
"What did he call you?" I said, uneasy at what I might hear.
"It's too awful -- I don't want to say it."
"Tell me. I can take it. Not your fault."
"He called me ... 'fish-face.'"
I was momentarily stunned. This was not the name I expected. Then: "You did right -- that's a terrible thing to call someone."
My son was never bullied again.