Bullying is a loaded word and when people see it it immediately provokes an image in their mind. A school bully, a work place bully or sadly maybe even a domestic bully. As this is anti-bullying week I thought I’d share some thoughts on what is one of the most damaging issues a person will ever face.
Growing up in Glasgow as the brother of two, I often found that I was the protector of others, it comes as second nature. However, as I got older I learned that bullies seemed to infiltrate every aspect of life. From the playground bully pinching dinner money, to a colleague in work who took against you without any reason; but not one of these bullies has more of an impact on your emotional wellbeing than any other. I often meet damaged, broken and hurting people who are adults but still living in the shadows of bullies. When their weight, race or religion has been the butt of school yard teasing and forever lives in your mind. I’ve met people who haven’t been able to form solid relationships because of abuse at the hands of a bullying parent or spouse. Scars that sometimes the eye cannot see.
In my roles as Councillor, MSP, and Convenor of Education I’m always heartened to see the amazing work that happens in our education system to tackle bullying. Teachers not only educate against the ills and destructiveness of bullying, but are often the only source of comfort and refuge to the victims. It’s actually remarkable that teachers are able to morph into so many roles in the eyes of a child. Young bullies also need care, love and attention a role which also falls into the hands of educators. Study after study has shown that many bullies have often been victims of abuse themselves, and while it doesn’t excuse behaviour, it has to be recognised in order for the cycle to be broken. If we don’t break the cycle at a young age, then we run the risk of creating a generation of abusers for years to come.
Adults bully, fact. Grown men and women act in a way which can lead to people dreading getting up in the morning. Casual comments in the work place which cut deep, “banter” which goes a step too far and leads people to wish for an escape. An escape from the very job which provides for them and their families. It’s the task of every employee in a workplace to call out bullying, it’s also the job of employees to recognise when their “fun and games” have gone just too far and when it’s time to quit. I’m a boss, I know, I really am, but I recognise that my staff are there to support me in being the best MSP I possibly can; that it’s my job to lead by example. I suppose the old adage goes pretty far here, just treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
One of the most tragic cases of bullying that has ever crossed my path has been the case of Emily Drouet. Emily was a hard-working girl who had her whole life ahead of her, smart and studious and loved by all who knew her. Emily’s only flaw was to fall into the hands of man who pursued a campaign of mental and physical abuse against her, a campaign which would result in Emily tragically becoming a victim of suicide. Mentally tortured and physically beaten, her parents (constituents of mine) are determined her life, and death, will not be in vain. Often as parents, conversations around respectful, loving and healthy relationships can seem awkward. Many teens just dismiss you, because how could you possibly know what it’s like to be them right? I have two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter so the life of parenting a teen is not alien to me. PSE within schools is a perfect place to start young people thinking about, and discussing, the issues of love, honesty, sex, relatonships, kindness and respect. Only by starting the discussions early can we have a hope of saving a life as wonderful as Emily’s.
If you are victim of bullying then please seek help. A friend or love one, a teacher or maybe one of the organisations which I will list below. Never think that you are alone in this world, there is always someone to reach out to, even if you don’t feel it, there is. To anyone who is reading this and thinking about their own behaviour, it is never too late to stop. It’s time to apologise and most importantly to change. In a world where kindness and compassion seems to be so hard to see, I believe it exists, and I believe that we can all take steps to achieve it.
I dedicate this blog to Emily, a girl whom I’ve never met but who has had a deep impact on my life. A girl who will change the world even though she is no longer in it, her story will help us learn what we can do better to protect a life as precious as hers.