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Two Sides to Every Bully - I was Both

By Bianca Wordley - 28th June 2011

When I was in high school I was bullied. For about six months, a group of older girls and some guys would follow a few of my friends and I around the school grounds threatening us. They never physically hurt us, but they scared us.  It got so bad that my Mum would come and meet me at the school bus stop and walk me home. On the days she couldn’t meet me I would run as fast as I could, in the hope I would outrun my bullies. I wasn’t always fast enough and they would ride their bikes beside me, taunting me as I walked home.

It was awful.

I remember the helplessness in my Mum’s face. I remember instructing her not to go to the school about it. I remember my heart beating faster, my hands fidgeting and my face growing red at the shame of being ostracised.  I remember I just wanted it to stop. It did. They girls got bored and moved on. The boys stopped following me home, they even apologized for being nasty. You could see the shame in their eyes.

Then something happened. One day my friends and I noticed a pretty girl with long blonde hair, in the year below us. She was being mean to some other students. We started following her around, calling her Barbie. We’d corner her on the stairs and say awful things to her. We’d hassle her and tell her she wasn’t as perfect as she thought she was – that she was fake.

We thought we were protecting those who could not stand up for themselves. We felt a sense of control and power. We had become bullies. I was no longer the victim. It felt good. And then, when she started sobbing in the toilets and begging us to leave her alone, we stopped.

I have felt ashamed about that ever since high school. I’ve always wanted to track her down and apologise to her. Years later, she served a friend and I in a coffee shop. I had my chance, but was so embarrassed by my behaviour I just greeted her with a warm smile. She smiled back and said hello and quickly left to get our order. I am sure she spat in our drinks. I don’t blame her if she did.

Now, I have girls of my own and I my heart hurts to think they one day may be bullied or they become the bully. I was recently sent a copy of a Time article about bullying and how not to raise a child who is a bully. It discusses how encouraging empathy – the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes – and by acting with compassion, selflessness and lack of judgement, we can help children grow into people more mindful of others' needs and feelings.

The article suggested that children raised in rough environments and/or dysfunctional homes learn that violence is a way to express anger or assert power. They are often lacking in empathy, for obvious reasons, and may turn into the aggressor. Programs introduced in schools and other institutions which focus on empathy and teaching children to consider not just their own, but also the feelings of others, are helping reduce the number of bullies.

I often wonder why I, who had been bullied, would then bully someone else and I realise it’s because I felt out of control and wanted to regain some of my own power. I had been raised in a house full of compassion, love and empathy and perhaps that is why when I saw the direct result of my bullying. That when I saw the girl crying, I truly realised what I had become.

When the time is right, I will tell my girls what happened to me.  I will also tell them what I did to someone else. I will tell the girls how it feels to bully and how it feels to be a bully. I will talk to them about compassion and empathy. I will tell them to stop and wonder why someone bullies another, about what may have happened to them in their life. Tell them about forgiveness and understanding.

Until that time, I will continue to show my girls through my actions how to care for those around us, how to question why people act the way they do. I will continue to try and walk in the shoes of others, be compassionate and kind. Empathy might sound simple, but there are still many people who are yet to learn its true worth.

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