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  • Writer's pictureRon Finnigan

How to Stop Bullies

Shame. That’s the only way. I’m not speaking as a bullying expert. I’m speaking as a victim. This is what worked for me in Grade 7 in 1960.

My Dad was in the Air Force and we moved around quite a bit. When we moved to CFB Bagotville, I was the smallest kid in my class. To the great disappointment of my father, I sucked at all sports. Team sports were just not my thing. But I was good at attracting the attention of bullies, usually almost twice my size. My only defense was a sarcastic loudmouth, which always made things worse. If I complained about bullies at home, I was told to “suck it up” and “be a man.” My father was too busy working two jobs and I had no brothers to teach me to fight back.

At recess one day, my teacher, a tall, Ichabod Crane type man, walked in on one of my regular face-slapping humiliations being doled out by Bobby and Billy, the two most notorious bullies in school. They had been disciplined for pulling a desk under a water leak and then positioning the full ink well under a water drip to cause it to overflow during recess. Both had been punished. I made a satirical comment about finally making their mark on the school. In response, Billy held my hands behind my back while Bobby slapped my face. That’s when Mr. Crain walked into the classroom and broke it up.

Later that afternoon, the principal, Mr. Bates, a short gruff man with an equally short fuse, stormed into our classroom carrying the dreaded “strap”. He called the two boys to the front of the classroom. It was a trial and there was no question what punishment lay in store. Like a prosecutor and judge, Mr. Bates reviewed the events that had occurred earlier that day. He ridiculed the size of two much larger boys and compared them to me. At that point, he asked me to stand beside my desk. I felt elation – finally they would get what they deserved. But as everyone looked at me and as I saw the naked hatred in the eyes of the two boys glaring at me, I was suddenly reliving every bullying episode I had ever experienced, from being repeatedly pushed in Grade 1, to punched every other day in Grade 6. It didn’t matter where we moved. It was like the word “victim” was tattooed on my forehead. The bullies always found me.

The realization of what my future held in store flashed through my brain. They were going to kill me. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day and certainly not on school grounds, but sooner or later, I would be dead. The emotional waves of past bullying and the fear of what my life would become overwhelmed me, and I broke down crying. My body shook as big, uncontrollable sobs gushed in an endless torrent. The principal looked at me in disgust. He told me to sit down, which I did, but I was not able to stop crying.

Mr. Bates took another look at the two boys standing at the front of the room, shook his head, and walked out of the classroom. All I could think at the time was, Thank God. I realized that I wasn’t seeking punishment or revenge – just peace. Mr. Crain seemed a little embarrassed by all that had transpired. He told the boys to go back to their desks, and he started his regular class, as if nothing had happened.

The odd thing is, I was never bullied at school again. Other kids in my class, who had previously avoided me, started sitting with me at lunch and invited me to play with them at recess. Bobby and Billy were shamed by the “no-strap incident”, but had no reason to seek revenge. Word of the unusual trial spread to all the kids in school, then to their parents, and eventually to the parents of Bobby and Billie. In an era of “spare the rod and spoil the child”, both received the most severe beatings from their parents they had ever received. This was a time when a child who went home and complained about getting the strap got another beating from their father because there must have been a reason for them to get punished in school. Bullies avoided me after that. At school, they smoked their cigarettes during recess and lunch at the edge of the parking lot hanging around with the other school rebel want-a-bees, well on the far edge of the school playground.

Today, we have a different approach for bullies. Bullies want an audience and group approval. Shining a disapproving spotlight on their behaviour is necessary to shame them. Bullying deeply affects the person bullied, as it did me, and follows you your entire life. I will say things got better. There were less bullies after school, but they did surface from time to time in my work career and in later life. Every time it happened I felt the same sense of panic and terror even if the only weapons used were words. While I’m comfortably retired now, I quit jobs that I loved because of bullies and made other decisions to avoid bullying confrontations. No one deserves to be bullied.

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