Notes on Bullying

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


An essay that's been sitting on my computer. I was reminded by a news item where a father reacted to the bullying of his child. No apology for the long-winded start.

Submitted: September 02, 2018

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Submitted: September 02, 2018

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The waxeyes were hungry this winter, so I fed them enjoying their antics through the kitchen window. Otherwise called silvereye, they are a pretty little bird, with a white ring around their eyes, a green head, orange flanks, white throat and greyish flanks. Usually they forage for insects but are happy to feed on apple or pear, pieces of mutton fat and sup on the sugar water I put out for the tui and bellbirds. It makes an interesting natural watch as I eat my breakfast.

Waxeyes are little scrappers, not actually fighting but threatening by shaking their wings and dive-bombing. A bird sitting still must feel vulnerable when another swoops down at it. There’s enough food, so they don’t need to fight but they do, maybe it’s their nature to be aggressive, but I can’t pick out any dominant bird among them because they all look alike, and they’re all bossy. The tui on the other hand is an out and out bully. He’ll sit on a branch, digesting his food, but if a bellbird or waxeye sits on the sugar-water jar, he’ll swoop down to chase it off, even though there’s four vacant jars.

When we were living in a suburb of Arusha, we saw plenty of semi-wild dogs lazing about, most were domesticated but some were ugly ferals, while at rural Makumira we didn’t see any during the day, however, in both places their nights were full of activity. Locals might have thought they were being guarded by their dogs at night, but in fact they absconded to join packs to maraud around the neighbourhood. When a female came on heat, the bigger dogs showed their dominance, fighting off the competition and mating. Meanwhile the other dogs fought among themselves, establishing a pecking order over who would be next in line. Sometimes the barking and yelping went on for most of the night!

I suppose the term ‘bullying’ springs from the behaviour of bulls of any species viz. cattle, elephants, whales or any male on Earth, doing nothing but following nature’s law: it’s the strongest, most dominant that produces the progeny. But, and there’s always a ‘but’. One of my heifers calves, barely older than twelve months became pregnant, we had to give her a caesarean because she couldn’t deliver it, both cow and calf survived. One of her sibling calves did the deed at a very young age, which demonstrates, chances are always taken when opportunity knocks, regardless of dominance. It’s a way of introducing diversity.

So how does that relate to the bullies in our neighbourhoods? First we have to ask if there’s a basic distinction between humans and animals. Evidence suggests our roots are from the animal kingdom and although we evolved uniquely, we can’t disregard traits of the past. Dogs evolved with us and were the first animals to be domesticated. Because of us, dogs changed their behaviour patterns, either through training or breeding. Sure there are renegades amongst dogs and it may be fair to say they may have been trained that way. Which goes to show that natural behavioural patterns can be altered and have been. Ever heard that dogs won’t eat raw pork because it tastes like human flesh? Maybe it’s a pig hunter’s myth, or perhaps domestication did it?

For all the political correctness and platitudes expounded about bullying, there’s a level where it's condoned. Bullies entertain us, think of Joffrey Baratheon in the Game of Thrones, or Biff Tannen in Back to the Future, Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter, Bluto in Popeye, Jack in Lord of the Flies and even Miss Piggy in The Muppets. I’m sure you have your favourites. And a good number of them had a propensity to physical violence too. Not much is said about the insults and belittling of some of the people pervading our screens, presidents do it, celebrity chefs do it, Roseanne did it... There are reality shows where roommates scream at each other, throw things, punch walls, name call and yes, bully, it  all adds up to good ratings. Parent reaction to all this is emulated by their kids.

Censorship might be a greasy old stick to grip at, but hey, we have a censorship agency funded by government here in Kiwiland.  Not so for bullying!  I’ve never seen an anti-bullying advertisement on television or heard one on radio, and there’s no hotline for bullied victims! We live in a strangely politically correct, yet not, society. How often do we see verbal violence escalate into physical violence? And of course physical violence isn’t condoned – or is it? There’s always excitement among rugby commentators and the spectators when there’s an especially ‘big hit’, a really hard tackle that knocks the stuffing out of the ball-carrier. It may be what top-level sport is all about these days, but kids are watching and learning. I remember when big-time wrestling hit our tiny screens, kids emulated ‘coat-hanger’ and other moves in school grounds, which resulted in very serious injuries.

I have no answers other than to say what I’ve seen. During my youth, I never recognised bullying among my peers, but at school, we had corporal punishment. Bullying surely existed at school but because I was unaffected, I didn’t pick up on it, but discipline was strict and bullying would have been dealt with firmly in the way of the time.  Mind you, there were some cane-wielding teachers who were out and out bullies but we had other names for them! In three years of forestry training in a group of twenty nine budding forest rangers, it didn’t happen either. Why? There were other ways we could test ourselves, boys or young men need to test themselves but not necessarily against each other, and yes, there’s some physical danger in those testing processes, but a broken arm or two is far better than a broken spirit. The key was, we were well-led. I don’t think our leaders were bullies – save one in our hunting training, he had a different attitude – but we toed the line. Why? We knew what was required of us, and no further correspondence would be entered into. Our instructors didn’t concern themselves with our feelings, they said how it was to be and we had to comply or we would be out on our ear. Not punished, out. I had a similar attitude when I was in charge of a firefighting operation, I told people what I wanted, expected compliance and didn’t couch my language to suit the feelings of anyone. However in general I tended to follow old Bert’s ethic: You can’t scratch me hide with a plough-shear, it’s me feelin’s that are sensitive.

*A plough shear is the replaceable sharp tip in a plough.

Yes, I know, the world is a different place now. The first big reason bullying thrives is that there doesn’t seem to be a best practice process to deal with bullies. Secondly victims always face a backlash, present or future, when they expose bullies. Social media is an untreated festering sore. So the conundrum remains… However, it’s no use writing about the issue without offering up at least something… so here’s my float.

There are those lapel ribbons that show empathy for specific causes; AIDS, Breast Cancer, and Anti Violence. Well, for survivors of bullying a coloured lapel ribbon might be appropriate. Not a ribbon as such, there are lots on offer nowadays, so what about crossed sticking plasters (adhesive wound dressings)? The idea being to show current victims that bullying is survivable and that bullying it’s widespread. Wearing it might even be a deterrent. But I wouldn’t advocate current victims to display any sign because that could possibly be dangerous, then again, there could be choice. The thing is, something needs done and there needs to be leadership.

 

 


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