Sunday, 24 June 2007

Challenge the bullies

I could have reacted in different ways to being bullied at school - getting my revenge by turning into a bully myself or doing my best to protect other victims.

It never occurred to me at all to put on the bully's hat and make someone else's life wretched, make them suffer the same way I had to. I don't know how people can harden themselves like that, freeze their emotions and become tormentors in turn.

No, in my case it bred a life-long sympathy for victims, not just of bullying but of any misery or hardship inflicted on the innocent by abusers of power everywhere. Knowing what it's like to be belittled and humiliated, knowing how much psychic damage that can do, I wanted to defend others in the same trap.

As a journalist in my younger days, I was always keen to write about people in rotten circumstances, neglected by officialdom or their own families. I exposed decrepit housing, health service cock-ups, lonely old people, unemployed youngsters, loan sharks. Hopefully I righted a few wrongs and freed a few people from anxiety and fear.

Later I took part in political campaigns to support women, homosexuals, council tenants and access to abortion. I joined in protests against the Vietnam War, poll tax and the National Front. It felt good to stand up and be counted, to be voicing my anger with hundreds of others rather than sitting at home shrugging my shoulders and saying "Well, that's the way of the world."

For five years I was a trade union rep, rallying my workmates when the management was up to something sneaky - trying to freeze wages, extend working hours or cut holiday leave. We'd dig our heels in and say a collective no to their relentless asset-sweating. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost, but I felt ecstatic those times when the bosses retreated.

If enough people stand up to the bullies, they can always be defeated. But it's easy to be intimidated by the sheer ruthlessness of those who regard treating other people badly as the natural order. If you're picked on time and again, it's hard to fight back, especially if you're left to flounder by those who could help. So don't be shy - throw someone a lifebelt.


  1. Well done, Nick. It's wonderful to see a man fighting for other people's dignity and right to live free of harm. I wish there were more journalists in the U.S. who were serving human rights rather than pandering to shrub and religious conservatives. That's one of the reasons why I love the blogosphere: citizen journalism. I often learn more from bloggers than the MSM.

  2. There's a lot I could say about journalists, Medbh, their spineless toadying to those in power and their obsession with utter trivia like celebrity gossip, but that'll have to wait for another day. I gave up journalism out of sheer frustration at its immature news values.

  3. Prompts like this can sit in readers' minds until they come across an injustice that previously they would have stepped over or looked away from.

    Journalism seems to an outsider to focus nearly as much on selling a branded product as disseminating information.

  4. Yes, here's to some fruitful prompts! And you're spot on about so much contemporary journalism being about a branded product. A trendy read rather than a watchdog snapping at the heels of the powerful.

  5. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
    I don't know who said it, Nick, but how true, eh?
    Great writing as usual and ye gads, all you hear about on MSM here is Paris Hilton, famous for doing nothing and confined to jail for some DUI's.
    Meanwhile, unreported, the slaughter continues in the Middle East, AIDs drugs are too pricey for Africa, global warming is threatening the planet and the politician bullies reside in their palaces, journalists panting at their knees steno pads in hand....
    The funny thing is that I hear from citizen journalists that the visible protestors of this war (myself included) far outweigh in sheer numbers alone the protestors (myself included) of the Vietnam war. Far, far outnumber (like double and triple). It is just that the MSM are not reporting it or underreporting the numbers showing up. Further news distortion. Interesting.

  6. Blonk of the week.

    Can't wait to see A Mighty Heart — Michael Winterbottom's new film about Daniel Pearl's murder in Karachi.

  7. www - I see it was the Irish politician Edmund Burke. A brilliant quote that's never far from my mind. I'm sure the number of Iraq war critics is growing daily, as the total killed creeps over 700,000. Will the carnage ever end?

    Annie - blonk of the week? You're too good to me. Oops, had to refresh my memory on Daniel Pearl, I'd forgotten all about him (shame). I really admire journalists like him who dig away regardless of personal safety. Worth 1000 Glenda Slaggs any day.

  8. Great post! Thank you for sharing. I taught self-defence (physical and mental) to sex workers, abused women, children, elderly. Some of the women had a conditioned response to abuse, both physical and emotional, mostly emotional. They thought they deserved this and not better. Youth almost always believe they are not worthy of anything but trouble, that they did something wrong to deserve what they have experienced. I completely agree that those of us who can see what is happening and understand how wrong it is should act immediately instead of being a mere spectator to the drama that unfolds.

  9. Thank you for sharing too, Gaye. Teaching self-defence is a brilliant thing to do - perhaps we should all be taught it. But it's sad that so many people blame themselves for the abuse they get from others.