Stand Strong NZ: Bullying is bullying, stop making excuses for it - Mark Longley

OPINION: I went to what is called in England a public school, it was in fact anything but public and cost my parents a small fortune for me and my brother to be educated there.

It was a Catholic school run by priests and the idea that certain lessons in life needed to be beaten in to you was strong.

Bullying was as much a part of the curriculum as English and maths. The thinking was a little bit of bullying toughened you up, got you ready for the real world.

Last year the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, condemned bullying as the work of the devil.

"When we realise that we harbour within ourselves the desire to attack someone because they are weak, we have no doubt: It is the devil." Pope Francis said.

I am sure the Catholic Church has never openly supported bullying, but the priests at my school thought it was a vital part of a young gentleman's education.

There was an almost nightly ritual when the older boys would go on the rampage, find the younger ones and beat them up.

I remember one occasion I got caught and thrown in a river. It was winter and snowing and one of the priests witnessed the whole thing.

He found the sight of me climbing up the riverbank in the snow and walking back to school soaking wet, amusing.

He likely thought it would build character, do me good. Harden me up. That, later in life, I would look back at that moment with pride that it set me on the path to being a man.

The bullying eventually stopped when a friend of mine's back was broken. His father was a high-powered lawyer and he rained all kinds of hell down on the school. It took that to stop it. 

Stand Strong NZ: Bullying is bullying, stop making excuses for it - Mark Longley
Photo credit: Newshub

Being educated in a school that turned a blind eye to bullying was not character building for me, nor did it teach me resilience. Far from it, most of the time I was terrified I would get caught. 

My daughter was badly bullied at school here in New Zealand for no other reason than she was blonde and beautiful. She would hide away during breaks and hope she wasn't found. If she was the gang of girls were brutal, all because of the way she looked. 

It was incredibly confusing and damaging for her and certainly didn't go anyway to building character.

I have a son who starts school next year. He is autistic and autistic children, along with children with other disabilities, are a far more likely to get bullied than other children.

It is a daunting prospect. He struggles enough with daily life and fitting in and it is sad that will make him a target.

It is sad bullying is part of growing up, and even sadder there are people who think it is part of life.   

Throughout this Stand Strong NZ series we haven't found one person who has said, "yes I am pleased I was bullied, it did me so much good. I would like to thank my bully for the important life lessons he taught me." 

If anyone thinks bullying is character building maybe they should have a chat to the parents of Wellington teen Alatauai Sasa who took her life after being told her "go kill yourself" and to "escape this world".

Or the parents of Summer Miller whose alleged suicide came after being relentlessly cyber-bullied.

New Zealand has a problem with bullying, UNICEF claims one in two kids in New Zealand are bullied at least once a month. While the report says New Zealand has the second highest rate of bullying in the OECD.

My question is why do we tolerate it?

Kiwis, we are often told, love to support the underdog. It is part of their culture.

They love to see the little man taking the fight to the big man. They don't like an uneven fight.

It is sentiment born out of being a nation from a small island, a long way from anything that regularly punches above its weight.

Kiwis hate it when other, bigger countries try to bully them, yet we tolerate it in schools.

Why don't we stick up for the little guy when it comes to children and put a stop to bullying?


Mark Longley is Newshub's managing editor.