I feel haunted and chilled to the bone – it’s cold and icy outside but that’s not the cause of this feeling of sad unease. Last night I watched what is usually considered light entertainment (and I’m sure by some, even as banal brain dulling fiction) but there is no denying that sometimes soaps on the telly tackle some pretty hard-hitting topics. The one turning my blood cold is a storyline where a young school-girl has been the victim of long-term, unrelenting emotional torture from her peers – I want to say bullying but the treatment is just so cruel it doesn’t seem to do it justice – and has resulted in her attempted suicide. It’s just so incredibly sad and one of those times where I wish so much that it was just another example of over-dramatic, unrealistic rubbish. Sadly though, the story is one that is all too commonly repeated in the media nowadays and one with which I am personally familiar after growing up in a not-so-brilliant comprehensive school.
Now I am well aware that this might make for a somewhat depressing and ‘serious’ blog entry but I feel so passionately about anti-bullying as a subject that I am obliged to write about it anyway. I think the reason it affects me so badly is two-fold – an absolute empathy for victims of bullying in all its forms and a desire to understand the despicable behaviour of those who take the decision to bully and torment.
To give a small snippet of background, the girl in the storyline has been visibly and quite obviously deteriorating emotionally and physically for some time while those around her miss or ignore the signs. She is 17 and at an age where life should be fun and the years ahead filled with excitement and opportunities to learn and grow. Instead the only path she can see is one ending with a bottle of vodka and a gutful of pills. Tragically, right to the very scene where she is about to try and end it all, people are doing her down and treating her with absolute contempt. I literally sat there on the sofa feeling sick with sadness for the situation. The thought that any person in this world (and particularly so many young people / children) could feel just so awful about life that they would consider ending things is beyond words to me… That so many people miss the signs and the opportunity to help makes it all the more upsetting. Couldn’t we all just be a little more aware and vigilant if it might help to save a life? I’m not saying the signs are obvious or even that there is always a way to save the situation but it seems to me that us adults have more that we should be doing to effectively tackle these awful situations.
The second disturbing aspect to the storyline is the attitude of her tormentors and those around her who did nothing to help. The coldness in the eyes and the denial of any kind of responsibility even when a young girl is lying on her deathbed is the thing that chills me right to the very core. How any person on this planet can find it amusing or entertaining to treat another with such contempt, disrespect and cruelty is just impossible for me to get my head around. I studied Psychology at university and looked into the minds and behaviours of a whole range of psychopaths and sociopaths and yet I will never, ever understand how a person could drive another to such despair and seemingly not bat an eyelid at the heartbreaking result. The final point of sadness is then how the school chooses to deal with it after the fact – denial, denial, denial. They ran a workshop and had a policy on anti-bullying and somehow thought that a piece of paper and half-hearted tick box exercise would constitute a robust and effective strategy…although I suspect if they reflected and were honest with themselves, they would know where the buck truly stops. The storyline in this soap just highlighted a prevalent and unrelenting problem in schools, offices and indeed within the playground of life generally. It also spoke to me of the disappointing fact that victims of bullying are let down by the people closest to them everyday.
But I wonder why I feel so incredibly incensed and distraught about it all because although there is a general consensus amongst most decent people that bullying is wrong, I’m yet to find anyone to talk with on the subject where I get a similar sense of feeling and shared injustice (correct me though if anyone reading this feels differently). I guess I have always had a burning passion for social justice and giving people a fair chance in life. I also ardently believe that respect and compassion should not be earned but instead freely given as a basic human right – bullying and any kind of ill-treatment of people is so counter to that value that perhaps it explains my intense feelings on the matter. I’ve also often thought that life can be tough enough on its own without having to put up with the cretins of this world who laugh and pick at others’ misfortunes.
So, what am I going to do about it I wonder? It’s all well and good writing on the subject but results and change are to be found in action, not inaction. Well I can’t say exactly what I’m going to do other than to think about it ALOT and find a way to make a difference. If I could, I would like to look every victim in the eye and tell them it is not their fault, that they ARE worth something and that they are a truly brilliant person capable of so many things…do NOT let those small-minded cretins win. And to the bullies… simply to tell them how utterly disgusting and repulsive their behaviour is and that one-day karma will bite back.
So, my humble lessons on what I know to be a highly complex subject with no ‘quick fixes’?
For those who have experienced bullying in its many forms:
- Please, please, please speak up to someone and tell them what you are going through. So many people would love to help and will work with you to find a way to tackle the situation in a way that suits and doesn’t compromise you in any way. But before anyone can help and support you, they need to know what’s been going – however, big or small it may seem.
- There is always a way out that doesn’t have to end in you getting hurt or ‘going away’. It is your right to be here and to be treated with respect – if anyone tries to take that away from you then they are the ones in the wrong so why in the world should you have to be the one to ‘disappear’?!
- Bullies will never go far in life – trust me I know. One day their stinking attitude will be their biggest barrier and that karma I talked about earlier? It’ll be back to bite right where it hurts.
Schools, employers, parents, carers etc
- Don’t bury your head in the sand. As a favourite philosopher of mine once said “If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?” You have a duty of care to all those who are under your watch and unless you can be 100% confident that the person you care for isn’t experiencing bullying / is the bully then there is some soul-searching to be done and there are some open and honest conversations to be had to make sure the signs are not being missed.
- Take a preventative stance – don’t wait for things to go wrong before anything is done. Forget books, policies and tick box exercises as standalone measures…preventing bullying is about setting expectations about a positive and respectful culture and behaviour and instilling the values in people that make it impossible to bully without going against those core values. It can be a long and tough road to change cultures and to teach values but truly, this is the ONLY way in which bullying will be stamped out for good.
All of us:
- Treat every person you meet with respect and value them as individuals – we may not like everyone that we meet and we may not agree with their view of things but there are still ways to interact without (sometimes subconsciously) treating them badly, dismissively or disrespectfully.
- Stay aware – anyone can be a victim of bullying or harassment and they won’t always feel able to speak up. We all have our own challenges to deal with but by being more vigilant maybe together our society can prevent the tragedies associated with victimisation. I don’t believe it should be ‘every person for themselves’ – some people are stronger in certain situations and its about time they stuck up for those who are struggling
I realise some of the above may sound a little preachy but I’m really just sharing what I feel might actually help to make a difference. I want to live in a society where nobody ever sits idly by and witnesses bullying and I certainly don’t want to continue to be part of a world where suicide and self-harm are ever considered an acceptable consequence. One day I will find a way to really do my bit (I’m already doing a few things and recognise I could do more) but for now I’m actually going to feel glad that the storyline of this tv programme has moved me so much – perhaps it shows my motivation and desire to do better for our young people so that no-one leaves this world lost and without hope.