When my kids were young, I had a conversation about bullying. It was the classic parental talk about not bullying. A plain, simple language explanation of why I’d be disappointed if they bullied anyone. I was asked if I’d ever been bullied. I told them yes, but only once. That’s when I veered from the script. I told them of my first day of school, when aged 5, I’d responded to a height-based slur with a punch. No clever words. Just a single punch.
I realised that in my haste to tell an honest story, I had shared exactly the wrong advice. I could see them mentally noting that ‘Dad taught me violence is the best resolution for any conflict.’ I quickly back-tracked but I told them I was never again bullied. The End. Wrap a ribbon around this life lesson from Dad.
It was a lie.
On reflection, it’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told them. The truth which I wish I’d shared then was that, yes, actually, Dad was bullied. And, not as a kid, but as a man. Now, let me be clear. In my employed career I had a lot of bad bosses. I had a few that weren’t very nice. But, they were just not very nice people. That in itself did not make them bullies. I have only ever been bullied by one man. He did it three times.
Twice in front of group of around ten people, and once, in front of over 200 people. It’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t stand up to him. One of those, ‘if I had my time again, how different things would be’. Why didn’t I? Because I was scared of losing my job. I thought that I just had to take it. In the moment, I didn’t really identify it as bullying. It took time for me to realise that what he did was wrong. And later still, that I finally applied the ‘bully’ label to these incidents. He was a bully. And, he probably still is. The moments were all humiliating, but the legacy of how I felt inside was more damaging than I ever realised. He made me feel worthless.
While I regret my cowardice and inability to stand-up for myself, my biggest regret is that I wasn’t honest with my boys. I wish I’d told them that I once failed to stand up to a bully. I wish I could have shared the consequences of my weakness. If I had, I’d have said that the measure of a person is how they treat everyone, especially those you lead. My promise to them, and myself, is this, if I ever see this man again, I will tell him about the lie I told my kids. I’ll tell him the impact that his bullying had on me.
And, of course, I’ll set my kids the right example by letting my words, and not my fists, do the talking.