Friday, May 11, 2012

Mitt Romney, Bullies and Red Herrings

As news of acts of alleged bullying carried out by Mitt Romney almost fifty years ago makes its way through the media, once again we set an example to our children by demonstrating that acts of hatred in our past are best answered by messages of vehement hatred in the present.

And once again, we never have a dialog around the real issues since getting our opinion (especially negative ones) expressed is more important than getting to core truths.

Especially if the core truths ring closer to home than many of us want to admit.

As a kid growing up just outside St. John’s, Newfoundland, I was bullied throughout school and college.  In the early years, it was the typical pushing and shoving, the verbal taunts and the occasional torn item of clothing and such.  I lived in fear of my bullies and did everything I could to avoid situations where they would be.

In high school (Queen Elizabeth Regional High School in Foxtrap), the bullying took on a new flavor.  From 1978 to 1981, I was routinely mock raped at the hands of fellow male classmates, usually in the changing room prior to and after gym class.

In these mock rapes, seven or eight boys would hold me down while others would take turns “humping me”.  Sorry – there is no easier, less graphic way of describing it.

I never reported it to anyone – it was too humiliating to admit it and this is the first time I have admitted it publicly.

The boys who did this to me for years are now well-known, successful businessmen in St. John’s, Newfoundland and area.

Don’t worry guys – I’m not about to out you.  Revenge is not a dish that I savor.

As a young boy (and young man), I felt many emotions – fear, shame, anger – all tangled up in a ball that took a lot of years to unravel and understand.

In speaking to someone “in the know” a few years ago, it was revealed to me that many of these boys were the victims of verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers.

And this revelation gave me a different perspective.

While it would be easy to look back upon the events that Little Harry was experiencing and feel hatred or the need for revenge (after all, it would be easy to name the antagonists here and watch their lives fall apart), I now look upon the antagonists, I feel their pain and I see the reason for their actions.

They were finding outlets to release the pain they were accumulating at the hands of someone else – outlets that weren’t fair to me but it was the best they could come up with at that stage in their life development.

So instead of feeling hatred towards them, I feel sadness for the pain that they were feeling then (and possibly still feeling) and I offer forgiveness.

The Bottom Line

My point is that oftentimes, we see the bully and their actions and we immediately begin thinking of punishment and retribution.

Instead, if we examine their activities with a true understanding of cause and effect and we really get to know what is feeding their actions, then we will get to the core reasons for their behavior.

Maybe when this becomes our focus, we will then be able to cut the cycle of violence (and the long-term negative impact) that makes up the world of bullying and allow healing to take place for the bully as well as the bullied.

The truth is that many (perhaps most) bullies have been victims in their lifetime also.

I can’t speak to the Romney situation.  As with 99.999% of people who have such a strong opinion on the matter, neither they nor I were there when the incidents allegedly took place and so our opinions on THAT matter are irrelevant.

However, instead of putting our energy into the red herring that is that event, let’s take a closer look at what is going on around us (or perhaps within us).

And let’s do something about that.

In service and servanthood,


PS Many of the boys described in this blog are gay.  They were closet gay then but openly gay now.  Their bullying behavior had nothing to do with their orientation but came as a result of being abused at home.  When I see legislatures describe the need to protect LBGTQ people from abuse by others (especially in schools), I counter with this thought:

All people should be protected from abuse by others, regardless of the attributes of the victim or the antagonist.

To set aside one group as being especially vulnerable lifts that group to special status while suggesting that other victims of abuse don’t matter.

And as in my situation, the original abuse of the bully occurred at home – abuse that they replayed on others in school.  Legislation targeted at schools don’t reach people at home where the seeds of encouragement and destruction are equally prevalent and relevant.

Respect transcends all differentiating factors.  When we get used to seeing each other as human beings without “special designation”, we will move closer towards respecting each other as human beings overall.


  1. This is a powerful post, thank you for sharing it.

    I think you've hit on something important here.

    I was recently at my kids' school and was talking to a kid (a known bully) who was in distress outside. He told me that he was afraid to go inside because another kid (another known bully) was bullying him. I don't know what the truth of the whole thing was (I just walked with him past the other kid and brought him to the school office so he'd feel safe) but I do know that this child genuinely believed himself to be being bullied. Other school bullies I have encountered as an adult have struck me the same way, that they perceived themselves as downtrodden, as bullied. As long as they believe that, their behaviour cannot change. We need new approaches to the bullying problem - I just wish I knew what they were.

  2. Christopher RichardsonMay 11, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Hmmmm... I just read your blog posting, Harry, and it brings up conflicting emotions. You see - people who were bullies in school generally don't magically change into decent human beings when they graduate. They become the bullies at the office, as neighbours, in the PTA, at the camp site, etc.

    I have a huge issue with the "It gets Better" campaign because - a lot of the time - it doesn't. For some, who manage to leverage what made them different in school, they do get to a place where they have money, power, or influence. But even these individuals (and certainly those who don't change their position in life) may have already be broken from the years of school torture.

    Those idiots who tortured you in school, graduate to become exactly who you hinted at in your blog: leaders in the community. Business people. Folks with influence. And guess what? Most have not changed. They still bully. Because it works.

    Sure, they might have been victims at home - paying it forward at school. As young kids they didn't really knowing any better. But by the the time they are adults, they DO know the difference. But do they magically change? No. By then, they have learned bullying gets results. It gets stuff done. It keeps you in control. It shuts others around you down. It turns out - it's just like school: every now and then you might find someone who pushes back - but you take note and move on to the next weaker individual. In fact - intimidation can end up being seen as a positive trait. You get things done. People roll over for you. On and on.

    Bullies are scum. They are scum when they are kids. And they are bigger scum when they are adults. Having an understanding that your childhood bullies were dealing with pain of their own meant nothing to you during those terrifying and humiliating times in the washrooms. You were just trying to get through the day... They didn't care about you then - and we shouldn't care about them now.

    We all make mistakes in this world. On our journey through life. I've done regrettable things to some people. Things I'm ashamed of. But those things are just individual events. They don't define who I was or who I now am. But when it comes to many, many, MANY bullies, it did and does define who are and how they get things done and the interpersonal relationships they have.

    I guess my point is this: having the insight of why a bully is, doesn't mitigate the damage that a bully does.

    My experience has been - and continues to be: the bullies of my youth have almost always continued to be bullies in their adulthood. I don't care to understand them - I just care to avoid and marginalize them.

    Louis CK - the comedian - wrote and directed one season of shows called LOUIS. They are very very funny. A tad raunchy at times. But one of his episodes is called bully. It involved him and a date at a restaurant where he is threatened into a humiliating position by a bully who takes offence at Louis asking him and his friends to keep the noise and language down. For a comedy - it is a very uncomfortable episode to watch. But there is an enormous amount of truth to it.

    The episode touches on what you wrote above; bullies beget bullies. But it also underlines the damage bullies do - regardless of their underlying motivation or issues. Unfortunately - Louis's date also underlines why bullies continue to thrive and will never disappear...

    Well worth trying to find the episode.

  3. Thanks Harry for this courageous and insightful essay. I understand those who would simply punish or avoid the bullies among us. That is certainly the safest approach for an individual, but it will do nothing to break the pattern, or prevent the behavior from becoming a legacy for the next generation. Some of us have to take up the challenge of lasting intervention. That can only come through engagement, understanding, an unwinding of the root causes, and ultimately, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. These things are not always possible, but somebody has to try. Otherwise, victims will never rise above being victims, and the bullies will continue to be their own greatest victims.