“Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the belief that something else is more important than fear.”
In public school I was bullied. I was the prime target for one freakish girl who intimidated all the other kids. Her tactic was to have her victims ostracized by making up lies and turning others against them.
Everyone knew what the bully was doing but scarce few wanted to challenge her. It was easier to go along with her tyranny than to try to stop her. Her abuse got physical when she punched me in the stomach, pushed me down and kicked me until I was swollen and bleeding.
My father decided that enough was enough and spent a weekend teaching me how to stand up to a bully. He taught me that a bully is just a thug hiding behind bravado. Bullies never gain true courage — the only way to stop them is to stand up to them.
My father taught me how to duck and throw a punch; to make a fist and to close my eyes just before I swung so that I wouldn’t pull back; to use my foe’s weight and balance against them. He told me that speaking out was like a lion roaring, that I could use my voice and words to stand up to her as well… but if that didn’t work I should aim at her nose, punch her hard, and then run like hell.
The following week I walked the halls a changed person. My bully taunted me like before, but I threw her words right back at her. Furious at my audacity, she told me she would punish me after school. By the time the final bell rang there was adrenaline coursing through my veins. I felt the fear but focused instead on my anger.
Outside the school kids had gathered around the bully and were chanting “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” The circle closed around me as she began hurling insults. I stared silently at her, my eyes focused on her every move with my fists clenched and ready to fight.
She threw her first and only punch and I stepped aside. As she fell forward I aimed, closed my eyes, and hit her square in the face. I could hear something crunch.
When I opened my eyes again I saw her on the ground with her nose bleeding all over the white snow. Everyone was quiet. I stepped towards her and she scrambled away. I yelled for her to get up and fight but she was frozen with fear. I turned to the crowd and asked if anyone else wanted to have a go at me. They all backed away.
In that moment I felt powerful. I wanted to hurt someone. Right then I could have kicked her on the ground the same way she’d done to me. Then a wave of disgust passed over me. I felt dirty, like a thug.
The seconds ticked by in silence until I roared that if she ever picked on anyone again she’d have to answer to me. I walked away and held my tears back until I was a block away, but I felt two inches taller that day. I’d found the courage to stand my ground.
Today there is much more education and awareness around the issue of bullying. Kids are informed at school about the problems bullying causes and are taught better ways to deal with a bully.
Recent events have, however, reminded me that school yard bullies often grow up to be adult bullies. Some people never fully mature and they continue on, stunted, pushing people around with their words and actions, and for some reason a lot of these grown up bullies end up in politics.
The most recent experience I have had was with an impulsive bully. Despite the consequences he had a hard time restraining his behavior. His arrogance and lack of respect for women is concealed behind an act of awkward shyness but it comes to the surface when he gets intoxicated.
I won’t forget the look Rob Ford gave me as I stood in the middle of a party, pawed over and speechless. It wasn’t the leer of a horny drunk after a quick grope, but the malicious smile of a bully who wanted to demonstrate that he could have power over me. His courage was fake, brought on by whatever drug he’d consumed.
I missed my chance to punch him in the nose… and if I had it would have set a terrible example to my sons. But I was not going to let him get away with it. There are different ways now for women to roar. Social media provides us a microphone that wasn’t available even 10 years ago. But it is a double edged sword. It can help the truth come out, but it can also spread the worst sort of lies. After I posted Rob Ford’s grope on Facebook, he and his brother used their influence over the media to brand me as a “crazy” opportunistic woman who simply wanted attention. They used my own words – that I thought Rob was on cocaine – against me, because (at the time) it was crazy to even suggest that the mayor would use narcotics. The court of public opinion was not fair, although eventually as the truth came out about the Rob Ford’s drug habits people realized I was telling the truth.
Silence is the veil that enables a bully to flourish. But out voices, if we have the courage to use them, will stop a bully in their tracks.