Saturday, 23 November 2013

Say No to Bullying

Daniel Perrey, Thomas Thompson, Karl Peat, Jessica O’Connell, Hannah Smith, Izzy Dix and Gemma Dimmick.

These are just some of the names of Britain’s children and teenagers who have been driven over the edge by bullying, in the last few months. All took their lives, according to their loved ones, as a result of persistent bullying.

Last week was anti-bullying week, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing. The dearth of media coverage is symptomatic of the extent to which we’ve come to accept this vile contagion as “normal”. Or, in the case of the BBC which, according to the National Union of Journalists, is subject to 140 live bullying investigations, it would be like asking Jimmy Carr to be the spokesperson for “Anti-Tax Avoidance” day.

Ten years ago, I was brought in to roll out a national dignity at work programme for Royal Mail. An investigation confirmed that one of the organisation’s employees, Jermaine Lee, was driven to suicide as a result of relentless racist bullying. His suicide note left no doubt as to the abuse he had endured, even after reporting his ordeal to management, who were accused in the report as being complicit.

As I travelled up & down the country, instructing senior managers in how to embed ethical values and behaviours, I made a point of using Jermaine’s name constantly. Bullying is personal & yet the perpetrators do it by dehumanising their “victims”. They zone in on something about a person that’s different. It can be skin colour, sex, sexuality, age or disability, or it could be an accent, personal style, background or visual appearance. Whatever it is, that person is labelled as “other”, seen as a threat to “us” & therefore, fair game.

Bullying can only happen in cultures that enable it. Often the hallmark of insecure, incompetent leadership. Strong, competent leaders inspire, engage & challenge. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that about. If there was, the global economy wouldn’t be in tatters.

I’ve seen good people make bad decisions as a result of bullying. People keeping their heads down, hoping to hold onto their jobs. In times of recession bullying (along with alcoholism, domestic violence, depression and suicide) increases significantly. This climate of fear (for jobs, family, security) is serially exploited by unscrupulous employers and indeed government.

How else can human beings cut off the gas supply of a family resulting in a baby being hospitalised for lung disease?, how else could Job Centre Plus staff trick claimants (as reported in The Guardian) into being sanctioned (which means losing benefits for 6 months)? How else could a human being evict vulnerable people for not being able to afford the bedroom tax (a government policy which has resulted in at least one reported suicide)? How else could human beings in the ConDem government remain silent when cases of severe malnutrition, resulting in hospitalisation, have doubled on their watch?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Whether it’s someone being sidelined, ganged up on or ridiculed in the work environment, or knowing that vulnerable people in your community are being bullied into fuel poverty, eviction or hospitalised because of hunger & malnutrition. If we stand by & do nothing, we too are complicit.

If it’s in the workplace, speak up on behalf of colleagues being bullied. If its people in your community, or another vulnerable group in society, make a stand, mobilise, take action. As human beings and citizens, we have a responsibility to stand up to the bullies, whether they reside in Westminster, the City or in our own communities.

If anyone reading this is a victim of bullying or knows of anyone that is & needs advice, please do get in touch.

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