On my first day of high school, a group of senior boys tried to physically bully the group of Grade 8s I was standing with.
One of them slapped two or three boys through the face.
When they got to my best friend and me, we made it very clear that we weren’t going to allow it to happen.
We were scared out of our wits, but we stood our ground.
Then we spent the rest of the day pretending not to be desperately worried by the fact that they promised they would be waiting for us after school.
I can’t remember exactly what happened that afternoon, but for some reason, they never bothered us again.
It was the first and the last time I was ever the victim of physical bullying.
Over the five years of high school, there were attempts to bully me verbally, but I had too much of a big mouth with an extensive vocabulary, and I guess bullies don’t like being humiliated in front of everyone.
So I’m not going to pretend to speak from a place of understanding, but I do want to share some thoughts about the current spate of bullying.
Firstly, I’m proud of Portlands High School for their anti-bullying pledge campaign last week.
It was in response to the tragedy of Lufuno Mavhunga, whose suicide was preceded by a particular egregious incident of physical bullying that was videoed and posted online.
It is here that I feel I can contribute a worthwhile observation or two.
It strikes me that bullies need an audience.
If not a crowd of laughing cheerleaders egging them on, then at least a passive group of onlookers who are too indifferent or too scared to say anything.
Then, of course, there’s those who whip out their phones to record the attack and be the first to post it to their social media.
I don’t think bullies would get as much satisfaction out of their behaviour if this crowd did not exist.
Yes, they are violent and lack compassion or empathy, but it’s the attention that they crave above everything else.
We as parents and as a society are clearly not paying enough attention to teaching our children to stand up for what is right and to tackle injustice wherever it is happening.
There’s always going to be a bully somewhere wanting to pick on a soft target.
It’s almost impossible to prevent that from happening. But it is a sign of psychopathy to get off on watching pain being inflicted on another human being.
And that’s what we should be most worried about as a society; young people not merely standing by while a weaker peer is being beaten up, but seemingly enjoying it and cheering it on.