Being an ambassador for Bully Zero Australia Foundation is such an honour for so many reasons. It gives me the opportunity to talk to a cross section of people about my experiences growing up and being bullied at school, and to also share how it has continued in to adulthood because of the career that I have which is in the public eye. People think that gives them the right to say whatever they like about me as if I’m a thing instead of a human being. Sharing my story has not only been cathartic for me and hopefully helped others deal with their own bullying situations; it has led people to share their stories with me. Every time someone shares their story with me I am humbled. Then one day out of the blue, someone I have known since my school days contacted me and told me he’d recently realised that he had been a bully. This revelation shocked me because the man I know is gentle, loving and supportive, he is always one of the first to offer help. At school he was a few years above me and I had such a crush on him, I just could not comprehend him being nasty to anyone. After he had shared this information, I asked if he would sit down with me and talk about it. He said yes.
For the purposes of this article I’m going to call my friend John. It is a tough thing to stand up and admit to something like this, and I would hate to perpetuate the situation by opening him up to being attacked. The reason for conversations like this is to try and break the cycle of bullying, not to instigate it. When I went to meet with John, his partner who was 9 months pregnant was home and we all sat together in their nursery, which was ready and waiting for their little one to come along. I couldn’t help but notice the irony of sitting in such a beautiful, tranquil space talking about things that had tormented others.
The first thing I wanted to understand was what did he do to these kids he bullied. His explanation was simple, he tormented them psychologically or was physically intimidating, but he never actually became physical with them. He did not beat them up. There were a couple of boys that knew how to answer a few questions they would be asked each day. Others would have their keys thrown across the football field so they would be late for class, those types of things.
When I asked why he told me, because he could. The boys he and a couple of friends would do these things to were physically weaker and unable to fight back. These boys knew that if John wanted to, he could hurt them. Back then; he thought it was fun, and something to do. It wasn’t about these kid’s feelings it was about power. This is a part that I personally can’t understand because I have always felt awful watching any person suffering. The one thing that brought me comfort during this part of our conversation was that I could see how uncomfortable John was while telling me about the things he would do to these kids. It certainly was not a proud moment he was sharing with me.
There was a moment at school where John was himself picked on by a bully who was a few years ahead of him. John stood up to his bully and was never picked on again. He knew that if he gave in once, it would continue. Bullies will only pick on people who are weaker and who can’t/won’t fight back.
John said his parents never knew what he had been doing, but his mum would have kicked his ass. She would not have tolerated that sort of behaviour. He wasn’t too sure how his father would have reacted, but having the background of growing up on a farm and having served in the army, he does tend to have a boys will be boys attitude.
When I asked John what was the turning point that made him realise what he had been like at school, he referenced a story that has done the rounds on social media about a kid name Kyle that was being bullied and one day a popular kid who was a jock stood up for him, and they became friends. It was only at graduation when Kyle made a speech, and explained that he had been ready to kill himself the day that his friend stood up for him and changed the course of his life. I knew the story John was talking about, as I had read it before, and cried every time I did. It breaks my heart that someone could be so affected by bullying that they would be prepared to end their lives.
Looking back at his time at school, John described himself as an asshole. The things he did he can’t change, but he would never behave that way again. He told me he had hoped to apologise to these people he had bullied when he saw them at their high school reunions, but none of the people he had bullied attended. He did concede that they probably didn’t want to go to the reunion because of him or others that may have bullied them as well, which is sad but he understands. Even though things from our past can’t be changed, to hear a genuine apology can do a lot to heal those wounds of the past. I hope that one day, the people who were on the receiving end of John’s bullying do hear the apology that he wants to give them.
It’s a funny thing talking to someone who you have never seen behave in such a way, telling you about the things they have done and then asking them about how they will teach their child that is due at any moment about this very same thing. It unfortunately goes without saying that at some stage in their life they will encounter bullying, either being a victim, a witness or a bully themselves. How will John teach his child? He made it very clear that if heard that his child was behaving like a bully he would put an end to that straight away. The values he wants to instil in his child are: True strength is going against the crowd. His child will be taught to stand up and help someone who is being picked on or bullied. If they loose friends because they stood up for someone that needs help, so be it, they can’t have been true friends to begin with. With all of that said, he rightly pointed out that he has a few years before he and his partner will need to deal with any of this.
While some people will read this and feel anger about the behaviour of John when he was younger, for me I see it as a big thing for him to not only recognise his behaviour, but to share his story and be so open about how it all happened and what he was thinking at the time. Nobody enjoys reliving things that are not your finest moments. So many bullies never recognise that they were a bully and in turn never change. I ran in to a girl who had been a bully at school 5 or so years ago, and thought she was quite pleasant to be around. That was until I started dating someone she knew and she would constantly ring him and tell him that I wasn’t good enough for him. The fact that I didn’t have the opportunity to go to Uni apparently made me stupid. The final straw for me was when we had to attend a dinner with her, as soon as I went to the bathroom, she attacked me again. Needless to say we left immediately and she was highly offended when I disconnected from her on social media, because she saw nothing wrong with how she behaved.
John, I take my hat off to you for standing up and being so honest and for breaking the cycle. Thankyou for allowing me to share your story.