In recent days, bullying in schools has been a hot topic for condemnation (yesterday in Toronto the largest anti-bullying event in the city's history was held), but there is little in the way of solutions being offered.
While everyone deplores bullying, a sorry reality is that many people who oppose it are bullies themselves, without realizing it. And bullying takes many forms.
In differing ways, most of us have had experience with bullying. Looking back to my own childhood, I can't recall being bullied but I can recall schoolyard fights. My upbringing was a bit unusual, since my father was a soldier and that meant changing schools often as he was transferred around the country.
Arriving at a new school in mid-term meant finding one's place in the hierarchy. In those days, that usually meant a recess fight with the class tough guy. I quite liked fighting -- wrestling, because fist-fighting meant getting bopped on the nose.
I grew up despising bullies, perhaps because my father loathed them.
When I was nine or 10 at school in Ottawa, I remember teasing a kid after school on a winter day at the outdoor rink. A bigger kid came along to hassle the guy I was teasing.
I objected that I got him first, and wound up fighting the big kid. I was thrown against the school wall and my head was cut. A teacher watching from the window saw the whole thing and rushed out to take me to a doctor.
The teacher phoned my parents, fearing I'd be scolded for fighting (I never got scolded for fighting) and praised me for defending a smaller kid against a bully. When I got home, both parents lavished praise on me. My sister scowled at the attention I was getting.
I never fooled myself that I was defending the kid -- I was fighting the interloper.
But ever after I tried to live up to what my parents (and the teacher) thought I was.
When attending Prince of Wales public school in Barrie, I was never bullied but my younger sister was. She was being pestered en route to school. It was wartime, with my father overseas, and my mother paid little attention. In those days, one never complained to teachers.
So my pal, Jim McConkie, and I would trail my sister Robin as she walked to school, and when the bully harassed her, we were on him. It solved the problem. Afterwards, I tried to use Robin as bait to attract bullies so we could beat them up. But the fish never bit.
When my step-daughter Danielle was going to Toronto's Whitney school in the 1970s -- the public school I attended in the 1930s -- she was plagued by a bully who made life hell for her and her friend Elizabeth.
I recalled defending my sister when she was that age, and Dani's brother, Guy, continued the theme. Guy wasn't certain he could handle the bully, but his best friend in those days, Matty, was a natural, good-natured athlete.
Guy and Matty persuaded Dani to head for Whitney with them trailing, ready to step in if bullying occurred. I'm not sure what happened, but I think she so enjoyed the outcome that she looked forward to having her champions always on hand to protect her.
Teachers are the ones who should spot school bullying, but often they're blind to it. Too often, teachers are bullies themselves. Kids who are bullied are often unpopular -- even to teachers. But it's part of growing up. Fortunately most learn to cope -- even later, when bullying occurs in the workplace.