Thursday, 18 May 2023

In the wake of the Navan Bullying/Assault case - A Personal Perspective

 My heart aches for that young man in Navan so brutally assaulted - Bullying seems somehow an inadequate word to describe it and yet that is what it is and it needs to be taken much more seriously in all our schools. I speak as one who was bullied relentlessly for a period of 6 years in a very well known private Protestant Dublin school (4th class Primary to 4th Year Secondary) and where it was not taken seriously by those who had the responsibility of care for us the pupils. I was the new boy, the fat kid, the vicar's son and I became a target for the bullies - Every day I faced beatings, being spat on, a wedgie every time we had PE or sport and constant mockery - It was soul destroying and I did consider suicide more than once. They were the most miserable years of my life and only for a few good friends I would not be here today. It took me years to get over it and two years of intensive counselling right into my mid twenties before I was truly able to move on. That may all be ahead of this young man from Navan and I pray he has the support he needs to get through this nightmare. I changed schools twice more before finishing secondary school due to my father moving posts. Both (The first a Quaker school and the second a Roman Catholic Co-ed convent) were wonderful and so different. In neither case was bullying tolerated or was it allowed to flourish - It didn't and doesn't have to be this way!

Funnily enough I was invited back to my old school to talk about bullying by one of the teachers who knew my story and thankfully the culture had changed and I believe bullying was finally recognised for what it is: Potentially life threatening and definitely life affecting mental and physical abuse.
I have over the years met many of my former bullies and most have never said anything about their former actions - Maybe they don't remember - Maybe they choose to ignore it - Or maybe they are so ashamed they can't bring themselves to mention it - I hope it is the latter not because I bear them any ill will - One of the things counselling taught me was that I couldn't let them live in my head - but because it is utterly shameful and damages and sometimes destroys lives. I do hope this is a tipping point and that bullying will no longer be tolerated in our schools where our children have the right to presume that they are safe.

Friday, 13 January 2023

Overcoming Negativity

 The recent wave of vile and senseless racist protests against the refugee community in Ireland is profoundly disturbing but in the last 24 hours there are signs of hope and an alternative and more representative narrative emerging as the newly formed Ballymun for All and Ballyfermot for All among others reclaim the recently hijacked voice of the citizens of this land and affirm that this is still 'Ireland of the Welcomes'.

It is so important that the wider local community in these and other places are fighting back against a small group of hate filled individuals who are misrepresenting the people of Ireland and spreading fear and hatred though zenophobic propaganda and misinformation.

Although those who promote this hatred are in a minority the power of negativity (The Negativity Bias) has long been recognised scientifically as much more enduring than its opposite of possitivity and in order to overcome this negativity we have to make a significant and disproportionate effort to overcome it.

I first saw this demonstrated some 20 years ago when I was a guest at the consecation of the first openly gay Anglican bishop in Durham, New Hampshire, USA. Bishop Gene Robinson who is a personal friend of mine and who faced death threats on the day and had to wear a bulletproof vest during the ceremony and bravely faced a very dangerous situation throughout the liturgy. His consecration was heavily protested by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church and I and all who attended had to walk through their vile and hateful protest but it was entirely mitigated by a counter and much larger positive protest by students from the University of New Hampshire who quite literally demonstrated how Love triumphs over fear and hatred.

This is what I was reminded of when I saw the local communities in Ballyfermot and Ballymun rising up to reclaim their voice and with it the priority of Love. They have set us all an example and we must follow by refusing to let hate win and to give overwhelming voice to the Love that is at the heart of true community. Otherwise if we leave a void it will be filled by hatred and negativity – We cannot be passive and assume that the greater good will prevail. Let us protest for Love and against Hate!