It was the summer term of 1969. Over Easter, four of us had been moved from the infant to the junior class in our two teacher primary school. We sat around a table at one end of the classroom.
At the other end, there was a boy who was tall and big and strong who took it upon himself to make my life miserable. Every day, there would be some new taunt, some new way of making fun of me. Everyone else laughed along with him. I don’t suppose many people felt much sympathy for me, but even if they had, they daren’t have spoken. My memories of him were of a smirking and sneering fair-haired giant of a boy.
Mercifully, we were only in that classroom together for one term before he moved to the local secondary school, where I assume he probably continued his bullying amongst new people. (When, a decade or so ago, I noticed on Facebook that he was not having a particularly happy life, there was more than a moment’s temptation to send an anonymous card saying, “I’m glad you are miserable, you big fat amadán.”)
Had I not been the eternal seven stone weakling who could never have responded to having sand kicked in his face, I might have contemplated a more vigorous response.
A colleague once told a story of working in a youth club in Belfast where there was a boy who found himself repeatedly the victim of bullying at the hands of another boy in the club. The leaders had sought to prevent the bullying, but had been unable to stop it. One day the boy had had enough. He waited in a side entrance off a street for the boy who had made him so unhappy. As the bully passed the entrance, the boy stepped out and hit his oppressor in the face with the flat of a spade. He then threw down the spade and walked away. He was left untroubled afterwards.
The story was always one that seemed closer to justice than talk of “turning the other cheek.” Jesus might have had said much about many things, but could not have advised on how one deals with school bullies.
What does one say to children who have been so upset by surreptitious bullying that they are afraid to go to school? To suggest that violence and intimidation should simply be accepted is to fail to understand how demoralising an experience bullying is for many people. A smack in the teeth might seem a quick and appropriate response.