5 Things I Learned From a 6th Grade Bully

By Linda Fisher Thornton

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Most of the people I know were bullied at some point in their lives. As I look back on dealing with a 6th grade bully, I realize that I learned some things from that difficult time. Today I share that story along with resources for bullying prevention. 

My bully repeatedly taunted me. My bully was bigger and taller than I was. My bully was mean. My bully was always there and always looking for a fight. 

I took the “ignore and walk away” approach for a very long time and that only seemed to escalate the bullying. Then an “incident” happened on the playground. On this memorable day she was particularly agitated and lunged at me. The worst case scenario I had feared was actually happening. I stood as tall as I could, closed my eyes and put both hands out in front of me signaling and forcefully yelling “STOP!” She was so startled she lost her balance and sat down hard on the blacktop, and her glasses flew off and broke. 

We were both called to the principal’s office. This was the first time I had ever potentially been “in trouble” and I was sure she had told the principal that I had hit her and broken her glasses, but that wasn’t the truth. I took a deep breath. I thought about the many times I had had positive interactions with the principal. I somehow found the courage to speak. I told him the truth about what happened that day and all the days before when she had bullied me and I was believed. Here are some of the things I now realize looking back on that experience: 

  1. Reputation is everything – when you are trustworthy and honest every day, people will believe you when you most need them to. 
  2. Trust is cumulative – it takes many months and years to build a high trust relationship, but that high trust relationship will help you get through even the most challenging circumstances with grace. 
  3. Aggression and violence don’t solve problems – lashing out at others may seem like a solution, but it isn’t a healthy one. Aggression and violence make problems worse.
  4. Bullies are often hurting inside – it’s easy to forget that bullies may be victims themselves.
  5. Leaders need to create a safe space – with active prevention where bullying is noticed and quickly stopped. 

I still remember that bully’s name, though I won’t share it here. Bullying and other forms of intimidation have lasting effects. We need to do much more to prevent them in our schools and workplaces. We need to be talking about appropriate boundaries of behavior in clear terms

Bullying is damaging by itself but we also need to realize that “bullies are more likely than others to engage in violent criminal behavior” (bullyingstatistics.org). We need a prevention strategy, not just a crisis response strategy. We need to stop negative interpersonal behaviors before they escalate. 

Resources

BBC Capital, Taking on a Workplace Bully by Chana R Schoenberger

UNESCO School Violence and Bullying: Global Report 

https://www.stopbullying.gov/

UNESCO: Let’s Decide How to Measure School Violence

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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