Primary school started with a nightmare. A boy there constantly bullied me, physically, at play time. Being so young such casual aggression directed towards me was completely alien. Without strategies or methods to deal with the situation school was an unhappy place.  Eventually I cried to my parents about the boy at school who was making my life a misery.

My father took me to one side and said next time the boy has a go at you, make a fist like this and punch him hard in the nose. We practised that for a bit.  Later at school in the playground the boy began to bully me. Although not naturally aggressive, following my father’s instructions I punched him straight in the nose.  Although the blow probably wasn’t that hard, he didn’t pick on me again.  Most likely the shock of unexpected retaliation more than physical hurt. In any case the concept of ‘fighting back’ was a revelation.

A few years later the boy who lived over the road (whose family were a bit of an unruly bunch) started pushing me around. Every time I went out to play when he was there he picked on me.  Eventually I told my mother what was happening.  She simply put a big stick in my hands and said next time he has a go at you, pick up the stick and chase him away.   So that’s exactly what I did, and Colin ran away. Strangely perhaps, shortly after that we became lifelong friends!

Those were important lessons in life, that there are bullies in this world and how to deal with them. Later at a more senior school boys school, being Jewish, I was perhaps exposed to potential abuse more than most.  One boy I remember in particular, repeatedly abused my cultural heritage.  For a time I kept my redish headed temper in check but eventually decided to let it off its leash, whacking him hard on the nose.  Following which we became friends! A strange phenomenon how sudden respect can change relationships and outlooks.

However I’m certainly not squeaky clean myself.  There was a boy in senior school, Jeremy, who was a little over weight and whose father was a member of parliament (although neither of these have anything much to do with the story).  Many of the boys used to pick on him, he was that type of boy who ‘invited’ being picked-on for some reason, and I can remember joining-in one day, sticking pins in his bottom!  Not proud of that but it changed over time, with many of the culprits, including myself eventually spending quite a bit of time over at Jeremy’s house doing stuff together.  So yes, boys will be boys, not always particularly kind, but usually it will resolve, similar to any pack of young animals.

Anyway, perhaps the main point to the above is that everybody has the capability within themselves to deal with bullies. I was not a large boy. It has nothing much to do with physical prowess, rather is 95% mental. Dealing successfully with bullies is an important lesson in life. However it isn’t going to be learnt if parents, as so often seems to be the case these days, step in and complain. Don’t do it!  Don’t give a man a fish, give him the means to fish. Give your child the tools to deal with the real world themselves and if needs be a chance to practice using those tools.

Bullying in the workplace might not often be physical but usually can and I believe should be handled similarly, by giving back as much, or preferably more than the bully. A short, sharp shock of some sort is usually effective.  However I’m talking about real bullying, not just being told off by the boss because you’ve done something wrong.   On that score it seems that there is a trend by an increasing number of people to label any kind of direct personal criticism or confrontational behaviour that they don’t like as bullying (a bit of push and shove at school is not bullying, it is part of natural social dynamics).  Confrontational behaviour doesn’t necessarily constitute bullying, whether from a colleague or a boss.  Disrespect or abuse however needs to be dealt with quickly and decisively by the recipient, which can avoid it turning into bullying.  Don’t be a soft target!  Run away and you become prey. Bullies generally exist because the victims haven’t learnt or been allowed the opportunities to learn how to deal with them.

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