Standing up to bullies a collective effort
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South Africans should employ the same spirit we used to fight the apartheid government to fight the scourge of bullying, writes Murray Williams.
Cape Town - Remember this line: “You and whose army?” It was normally said by a tough guy. His victim would attempt to defend himself or stand up to Tough Guy.
I remembered the line when I saw a letter on bullying. A child had been bullied. The principal explained the hurt and warned of the consequences.
I wondered: It can’t be true – can it? – that school bullying is driven by pure meanness? That people so young can already be so poisoned? One hopes not.
That would leave three possible motivations for bullying.
First: We’re told those who are beaten down – literally or figuratively – are more likely to become bullies themselves. The solution? Therapy for both perpetrator and victim.
Second: Some bullying must be unintentional. It’s someone’s “joke”, which is felt as pain or humiliation, even if not the joker’s intention. The solution: education, insight, empathy.
Third: One suspects bullying can also be driven by arrogance. The misplaced belief, by some, that they are genuinely superior, that their “underlings” thus deserve to be ridiculed. Their solution is probably humility. If the perpetrator’s lucky, this’ll be a mild lesson in life. But sometimes the arrogant can suffer terrible humiliation themselves.
Anyone who may “like themselves” or “revel in their own successes and talents” a little too much should perhaps take a moment of self-reflection before that big lesson in humility strikes.
The worst part of the principal’s letter was: “Sadly, while these actions are perpetrated by a small group – others have not been brave enough to report the issue nor have they tried to stop it. They look on or look away… or are too afraid to say it louder because they might become victims themselves.”
Yes, South Africans have myriad flaws. We eat too much meat, drink too much, get too sunburned. We drive too fast. We’re insular and xenophobic. But for a very long time, many have also been in the habit of standing up for one another.
Those who fought hardest against apartheid showed the world what it is to be truly compassionate, magnificently courageous, entirely selfless.
That part of our national character should be nourished.
We should applaud schools that empower the innocent witness who sees the bullying. Schools which teach that leadership means action – especially when it’s easy to look away. Schools which discourages complacency, foster courage – especially against the powerful.
The measure of a school should be its pupils’ collective character – whether they steadfastly stand tall.
When the bully threatens, and asks “You and whose army?” – the answer will then come from those representing the common, caring majority. This collective power for good will respond: “You’ll face us. What you’re doing is not cool, and we won’t stand for it.”
* Murray Williams’ column “Shooting from the Lip” appears in the Cape argus every Friday.