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W O R D S : C L A R E A R M S T R O N G

@ B y C l a r e I CAUSED a lot of headaches for my­self as a child.

When I was in pri­mary school I used to get bul­lied by this boy in the grade above me who trav­elled on the same bus.

The kid was your usual run-of-the-mill bully. He’d ini­tially tar­geted me be­cause I had braces (and if there’s one thing bul­lies are in­ca­pable of ig­nor­ing, it’s an awk­ward kid with some hec­tic or­thodon­tic work in progress), but the real prob­lem was much more my own mak­ing.

I was in­ca­pable of just sit­ting there and not try to fight back. Ev­ery time I de­fended my­self, and ev­ery time it just made things worse.

I will never for­get the day I got called to the deputy prin­ci­pal’s of­fice in pri­mary school be­cause he had heard about the bus sit­u­a­tion.

More specif­i­cally, I will never for­get the feel­ing of hor­ror when I walked into that of­fice and saw the bully in ques­tion al­ready sit­ting there with the deputy prin­ci­pal wait­ing for me.

There was a brief meet­ing, the deputy made me ac­cept a forced apol­ogy from the bully and then we were dis­missed.

I think we got about two me­tres down the cor­ri­dor be­fore the bully turned to me and said some­thing along the lines of “snitches are b*tches”. That deputy was def­i­nitely an id­iot. The in­ter­ven­tion changed ab­so­lutely noth­ing and only set me fur­ther in my re­solve that noth­ing was ever go­ing to stop a bully, so the least I could do was de­fend my­self for my own per­sonal san­ity.

Maybe it’s be­cause I’m the old­est of four chil­dren, but my fight or flight in­stinct is like 99 per cent fight. If I ever got bit­ten by a ra­dioac­tive spi­der I’d be the most an­noy­ing self-righ­teous su­per­hero be­cause I’d never let any tiny in­jus­tice go.

It’s a trait that still reg­u­larly gets me in trou­ble as an adult, even in my job. I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate oth­ers us­ing their power to ma­nip­u­late, cor­rupt or try and hurt oth­ers and I don’t mind point­ing that out.

In the pub­lic sphere that makes me the tar­get for a dif­fer­ent kind of bully _ key­board war­riors who make as­sump­tions and as­ser­tions about the most ridicu­lous things from the safety of their own lounge.

Only now, in­stead of a prin­ci­pal pulling me into his of­fice to hash it out with the bully, the only op­tion avail­able is to turn the other cheek/ block ev­ery­one on Twit­ter.

Thank­fully, though, un­like that lit­tle kid stuck on a bus be­ing teased for hav­ing braces, I am priv­i­leged enough to have a pub­lic voice that I can use to high­light im­por­tant is­sues like this.

Bul­lies will never change. No kid on that bus could have stopped the bully shout­ing, “say it don’t spray it” at me for an en­tire 20-minute ride home.

Bul­lies are the worst and few peo­ple are as stupid as me when it comes to the fight or flight mode. But they didn’t have to clap and laugh. Be­cause the stan­dard you walk past is the stan­dard you ac­cept. And if you feel pow­er­ful be­cause you’re stand­ing be­hind a bully then you might want to se­ri­ously re­con­sider a few life choices.

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