Bullying destroys lives and needs to be stopped – we all have a role in that

Every year in Anti-Bullying Week, I share a post I wrote five years ago where I wrote about the hell of my secondary school years and the very long shadow bullying cast on my life. It may be lazy to share the same post year on year, but even 30 years on, I don’t want to put myself through writing it again.

During the first three years of high school, I was primarily known by two names, neither of which had been given to me by my parents. In English one day in first year, we were taking it in turns to read out a scene from a play. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was but as fate would have it, the line I had to read was “I want a yak.” Quick as a flash, the boy in front of me yelled out “I always thought you were one……” Cue the entire class, including the teacher, to collapse in laughter. That spread like wildfire, and before long it became my name to the entire pupil body.

If we’d had Google images then, I might have discovered pretty quickly that yaks are really kind of cute, but I never really saw it that way at the time and I really don’t think that the name was an affectionate one.

The other name came from the fact that, yes, I do have weird eyes. For that reason, people would hiss like a cat when they saw me coming, and spit out “Cat’s Eyes” as I passed.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much, but when you hear one or other of those things round every corner every day, you do feel less than human.

I became adept at varying my route to and from school to try to avoid the bullies who were there to pull my hair, or steal my stuff or point, or laugh, or kick or trip me up. They liked to mix it up a bit so I never really knew what I was walking into. I know it’s all quite low level, but it wore me down. I lived in perpetual fear and carrying that around everywhere was exhausting

It seemed at times like most of the teachers turned a blind eye to what was going on. Sometimes, it even felt like they were joining in. I remember lining up at the end of a class one day and one person called me a name. The teacher then repeated that name at me, legitimising what the bully had said, giving them a real boost and making me feel like there really was nobody who thought I was any good whatsoever.

I dealt with it by escaping into a bit of a dream world, from which some of my friends today would say I am yet to fully emerge, given my potential for being utterly scatty and unobservant. I had to wake up every morning though – and the first sensation was always fear induced nausea, before I even opened my eyes, as I wondered what new blow this day would bring. It was like a battle was going on inside me – most of me felt that I was completely worthless and deserved all I got, while there was a tiny seed of entirely irrational optimism which kept me going and ultimately held me back from a messy end on the rocks.

Tackling bullying at an early stage is so important. Apart from the lives it can make better, it stops school bullies turning into workplace bullies, political party bullies.

The expulsion of a leading Conservative campaigner from that party for bullying which was implicated in the suicide of a young activist highlights the importance of every organisation being able to recognise and protect its members from bullying. No political party is immune from such behaviours and anyone in a leadership position in any party must be aware of how to recognise it and to intervene to protect those who are suffering at the hands of bullies. The perpetrators need to be taken out of any role in the decision making process.

So what is bullying? It can take many forms and is essentially powerful people asserting their authority over those with less influence and perhaps more vulnerability. Exclusion, name-calling, displays of aggression, physical assault, teasing and then complaining that the victim can’t take a joke. It becomes particularly toxic when it is focused on a person because of their ethnicity or gender identity or sexual orientation or religion.

Bullying in real life is bad enough. It’s energy-sapping and life-limiting. Online bullying can be tough to endure, too, and a small minority of Liberal Democrats can behave appallingly to colleagues at times and, rarely, can be quite sinister. Just the other night, some friends were on the receiving end of some quite freakish behaviour. One of them has a first name that they don’t use and is not commonly known. You have to do some serious Google digging to find evidence of it. This person not only found it but then started calling them by that name. It was the stuff of the playground and almost stalkerish. It dawns on me that some of the groups which aren’t publicly accessible have as part of their rules that you are not allowed to take screen-grabs and share stuff from the group. Actually, in cases like this, I would say it was essential to do so to provide evidence for complaints. If administrators are not prepared to allow this, then they are acting to protect bullies.

If you are affected by any of this within the Liberal Democrats, if there is someone or a group of people who are not treating you fairly, equally, or with respect, then the complaints procedure is set out in the members’ section of the website. . Don’t let them get away with it. The processes within the party have changed beyond all recognition and complaints are now taken much more seriously than once they were.

This goes beyond the party, though. As liberals, in any area of our lives, if we are aware of any of the many forms of bullying behaviour, we should take action to stop it and show solidarity with those on the receiving end. It’s possible to do so in a clear and calm way and could really make a huge difference for people.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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3 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Nov '15 - 7:04pm

    Sorry to hear about your experiences of being bullied at school. Sometimes I see bullying and I think it often shows the insecurities of the bully, at least temporarily, because when you try to look at it rationally the bully is often either wrong or making a massive deal out of something that isn’t really very important.

    In school I got bullied a fair bit, not massively so, but a fair bit. Occassionally I would bully others, but not very often. I haven’t experienced much bullying since high school, just the odd bit of criticism from friends that I sometimes thinks goes too far.

    I agree any bullying needs to be reported and also if possible speak to the bully about it because sometimes they don’t even realise how they are making you feel.

    Best of luck, all.

  • Ruth Bright 22nd Nov '15 - 4:19pm

    Like Eddie I was sorry to read of your horrible experience Caron but very grateful you have channelled it into the work you have done on preventing bullying in the party.

    Isn’t it extraordinary the way people can pick on an attractive feature and turn that into a “problem”. Tres Daily Mail.

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