I was a high school (secondary school) bully.
There I said it.
It was a very difficult journey to come to this realisation.
It may sound silly to say this, but I did not know that I was one.
I knew what bullying was. We watched American High School movies. Athletic popular boys would poke fun at the bespectacled, braces-wearing pale and lanky nerd. Or beautiful popular girls who wore make up and had boyfriends teased the odd looking fat or gothic girls.
I wasn’t that type of person. I was overweight and did not feel attractive. I had been called unflattering names and no one ever said I was pretty. I would have been the bullied person in those movies.
I also did not pick on people because of how they looked. Remember I wasn’t a looker myself.
I had sharp wits and I could rail road people with my mouth and my size. It may have been a defence mechanism but it was also an offensive armour. I was the senior who could get the junior girls to finish their tasks. I was intimidating and relentless. Able to break spirits with my mouth.
I never saw this as bullying. I was a prefect and I was popular with the senior girls.
There was a girl called Sum (pronounced Soom).
Apparently, she had said nasty stuff about some other prefects and I. We heard about this and punished her. I was the leader of the crew. I remember hitting her hard across the face and how strange that felt. And how it became easier to keep doing that. We ‘taught’ her a lesson and let her go. Every time I saw her, I would say something or give her errands; anything to make her uncomfortable. I knew she hated me and I didn’t care. I would compose silly songs that ridiculed her and made her sing them to herself.
When I finished high school, I had my first spiritual experience and became a born again Christian. All I had ever done to Sum haunted me.
For the first time, I wondered what life must have been for her because of me. How she would avoid me or cower in fear when I called her name. Or how she would long to be home (it was a boarding school) because of how unbearable I made school for her. I wondered if that had reflected on her grades. I had not been capable then of realizing I was monumentally affecting the quality of a person’s life. To be clear, hitting another person was not allowed in my school. The juniors always realised that reporting a senior girl would make them targets to other seniors and there are ways of making a person miserable without touching the person.
I got into university and one day ran into Sum. I was scared that she would not speak to me. With tears in my eyes, I asked her to forgive me. I had been just a child myself. She was incredibly gracious and waved it away as the past. I thanked her profusely and finally felt lighter.
A close friend ran into some girls that had been juniors when I was a senior. This was over a decade after I had left school. They told stories about how wicked I was. I honestly could not remember them or the stories. But years later, they remembered in detail including some of the songs I forced them to sing to make them look silly.
As a former bully (hearing all these things and thinking back, I was indeed a bully), I can say that it is easy to forget how you made the lives of people miserable. But the bullied remember. Sometimes every word said, they remember. Because of the effect it had on them.
Who I was then is not who I am today. I have grown over the years. I am appalled by stories of bullying and scared to death of my children encountering people like I was. I would take it all back now if I could but I can’t.
So what could have been done to mitigate bullying like the sort that I was involved in?
The senior and junior dichotomy. The power the seniors had over the juniors. The fact that junior students could not call senior students by name was unnecessary power given to the seniors. The distinction created an upper and lower class. A more important group and a less important group. The unnecessary subservience. This was no training for respect for older people. This was simply fertilizer to nourish bullying. We need to see people as just people. Equally deserving of respect and regard irrespective of age, ability or gender. That is a better focus than teaching obedience to older people just because they are older. Teaching that a person deserves to be regarded more because he/she is older only is only teaching that a younger person does not deserve respect.
Self-reliance. You must have your routines and no one is mandated to make it easier for you. No lounging while a junior girl or boy fetches your water. There is absolutely no reason for that.
Education on bullying and its effects. I wrote this because I read about a young woman that committed suicide in front of her family because she could not stand being bullied anymore. That is the extreme end of the spectrum. People grow up with self-d. I was told about a girl that was studying Theatre Arts, a director of a show they were putting together took one look at her said she looked like she would be only be chosen to act horror movies… i.e she was ugly.
That was the last day she acted. She left that department and was not seen in school for over a year. She changed her course and that was that. Potential bullies need to know the impact of their words on other people. I never thought about this or even cared for that matter. Maybe if there was structured education about this, I would have given it a thought.
There must be consequences for bullying. When bullying is established, a bully must be punished. Bullying should not be tolerated for any reason.
Suspension and expulsion must not be out of the question. This will serve as a deterrent to other bullies. Schools should have an established and well thought out plan to curb bullying. They should have guidelines and open lines of communication where children can speak about what they are going through even anonymously if they so choose.
I know that we don’t prioritise emotional and mental health but the effects of bullying have been known to lead to deaths. A child up north had a broom stick inserted in his penis as punishment by a senior student. He could not remove it and he kept quiet till he fell ill and could not urinate. Luckily he survived this and it was treated as a police case. I have heard of a student locked up in a locker on vacation day and his body was discovered a few days later. I know a child that slept for days in a forest before finding a way of tracing his grandparents because he was bullied and had a pending punishment.
Something can be done about this. Even cyber bullying can be curbed. Laws protecting vulnerable people. Laws preventing revenge porn should be enforced. This may be more difficult but it cannot be ignored. This could save lives potentially.
Lastly, I would like to profusely apologise for who I was. No excuses. I am ashamed that I was not a better person. I had my personal issues like most bullies do but there is never an excuse to exert discomfort or pain on another person. I say that I am a different person now because I genuinely am. But I can’t take it back. I can’t go back and erase it. I am very sorry.
There are a lot of grown up bullies out there. Using their mouths and social media space to intimidate people. It may be all fun and games to jump into a person’s space and criticise or even insult such a person.
“You are fat, old and ugly… you will die alone.”
“What kind of dress is this… abeg abeg abeg… your stomach is too big for this.”
“Miss Anambra the lesbo… God forbid… instead of being a role model you are there f@#king cucumber. Na so your life go useless.”
So many people under the ‘anonymity’ of social media heckle and say the most hurtful and ridiculous things to people. They move on with their lives without a clue as to how this is affecting people.
This has to stop.
It is not ok.
You would hurt too if people did it to you.
Let us grow in our thinking and actions…
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