Tag Archives: anti bullying week

How bullying casts a long shadow…a post updated with reflections on Priti Patel and Dominic Cummings

It is ten years since I first wrote this, and I share it every year during Anti-Bullying Week. I could write something else, but it took some emotional energy to write the first time and I’m not really up for putting myself through that again. 

Let’s not put up with anyone being treated like this, whether at school, in the workplace or within politics. It’s important that anyone in any sort of leadership role in any organisation has the skills to recognise and intervene to stop bullying and support those affected by it. It casts a very long shadow and destroys lives. Its costs are massive in terms of wellbeing. Also, if you are bothered about the money and the economy, happier people are more productive.  It’s entirely preventable and we should do all we can to eradicate it.

It is ironic that I share this during this year’s anti bullying week a day after a Prime Minister defends a Cabinet Minister who has been found to have broken the Ministerial Code in the way that she treated her civil servants:

My advice is that the home secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.

I think the report is quite lenient on her, almost justifying shouting and swearing at officials. There is no circumstance in which that is ever justifiable in a workplace. The idea that she gets off because nobody raised it with her in the Home Office is utterly ridiculous. It takes some courage to raise these issues with the person in charge who shouts and swears at you. 

By all accounts, the way the recently departed Dominic Cummings treated people was even worse than the allegations against Patel. This Government has so far been fuelled by bullying. A toxic culture in which people are working in an atmosphere of fear and loathing is never going to be conducive to getting stuff done well. And this is actually costing lives. You can’t perform well if you are constantly fearful and anxious about the behaviour of an individual. You can’t effectively challenge their thinking and ideas. When you are making decisions that are a matter of life and death for many people, you need to make sure that they are properly thought through. A wise person I know says that the most important person in the room is the person who disagrees with you, because their input helps make your performance better. 

If staff in any workplace wake up with that same nausea that I faced when I was bullied, it saps energy that they could be putting into their work. And that is entirely the fault of the bully. 

We have a Prime Minister who clearly doesn’t get the impact of bullying in the workplace, and who is prepared to overlook the most egregious instances of it. 

Priti Patel should have been sacked. Dominic Cummings’ behaviour as Michael Gove’s Special Adviser at Education should have  meant that he never got over the door of Downing Street. 

It is incredibly worrying that the person in charge is willing to let this sort of unforgivable behaviour pass. The example that sets to other employers is extremely unhelpful, to say the least. 

And now on to that 10 year old piece.

I’ve been procrastinating like anything to avoid writing this post because although I know the events I’m going to describe took place a long time ago, they cast a long shadow. Their stranglehold on my life is long gone, but the memories are not. I might have teased my sister for posting something inane on my Facebook wall a while ago when she has important work she needs to do, but how would I know if I hadn’t similarly been wasting time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a very long time, but now is probably the right time. When Stephen wrote so movingly about how his experiences of homophobic bullying had almost led him to the brink of suicide, I thought about telling my story too. His account of standing on the breakwater as a 17 year old brought vividly to my mind those dark occasions I’d stood far above the sea and contemplated jumping as a young teenager myself. I wasn’t bullied for homophobic reasons. In fact, it was made very clear to me that no man, woman or even beast would ever find me attractive.

The bullying started in earnest when I went to secondary school. I was in a very dark place as a 12 year old. This isn’t the right place to explain why but when I experienced those feelings again in later life, the doctor called it Depression. To add to that, we’d moved so I was far away from the emotional bedrocks my wonderful grannies provided. I was vulnerable, alone and, let’s be honest, not very likeable. I certainly didn’t like myself much anyway.

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.

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How bullying ruined my teenage years and cast a long shadow on my whole life

I first wrote this eight years ago, and I share it every year during Anti-Bullying Week. I could write something else, but it took some emotional energy to write the first time and I’m not really up for putting myself through that again. 

Let’s not put up with anyone being treated like this, whether at school, in the workplace or within politics. It’s important that anyone in any sort of leadership role in any organisation has the skills to recognise and intervene to stop bullying and support those affected by it. It casts a very long shadow and destroys lives. Its costs are massive in terms of wellbeing. Also, if you are bothered about the money and the economy, happier people are more productive.  It’s entirely preventable and we should do all we can to eradicate it.

I’ve been procrastinating like anything to avoid writing this post because although I know the events I’m going to describe took place a long time ago, they cast a long shadow. Their stranglehold on my life is long gone, but the memories are not. I might have teased my sister for posting something inane on my Facebook wall a while ago when she has important work she needs to do, but how would I know if I hadn’t similarly been wasting time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a very long time, but now is probably the right time. When Stephen wrote so movingly about how his experiences of homophobic bullying had almost led him to the brink of suicide, I thought about telling my story too. His account of standing on the breakwater as a 17 year old brought vividly to my mind those dark occasions I’d stood far above the sea and contemplated jumping as a young teenager myself. I wasn’t bullied for homophobic reasons. In fact, it was made very clear to me that no man, woman or even beast would ever find me attractive.

The bullying started in earnest when I went to secondary school. I was in a very dark place as a 12 year old. This isn’t the right place to explain why but when I experienced those feelings again in later life, the doctor called it Depression. To add to that, we’d moved so I was far away from the emotional bedrocks my wonderful grannies provided. I was vulnerable, alone and, let’s be honest, not very likeable. I certainly didn’t like myself much anyway.

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.

Posted in Op-eds | 8 Comments

Phil Bennion MEP writes… Anti-Bullying Week: The EU has a duty to share best practice on Autism-related bullying

This week is Anti-Bullying Week, now an annual UK event. It aims to raise awareness of bullying of children and young people and people with conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders which make them particularly vulnerable to abuse. Organised by the Anti Bullying Alliance (ABA) in England, which is made up of sixty member organisations, the week is an important opportunity for policy-makers to take stock of efforts to stamp out this social evil and evaluate new approaches.

As MEP for the West Midlands region, I have always believed that the European Union has an important role to play in …

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