02 May 2018

How to cope with bullies

In David Mitchell's charming 2006 coming-of-age novel, Black Swan Green, 13-year-old protagonist Jason Taylor is growing up in rural Worcestershire in Falklands-mad 1982. Flirting with clandestine poetry-writing, dogged by a ruthless stutter and beset by school bullies, his lot is not always a happy one. 

In one class, music teacher Mr Kempsey sends Jason on an errand to fetch a school whistle for the teachers' post-class bus duty. (Jason seeks directions to Kempsey's office from another teacher who is reading a notoriously perverse French intellectual novella, L'histoire de l'oeil (The Story of the Eye), but he tells none-the-wiser Jason it's a history of optometrists). 

On Mr Kempsey's desk, underneath the whistle and obviously meant to be discovered, Jason finds a stack of Xeroxed pages, each with the same short note - an epistle to the bullied:

Contrary to popular wisdom, bullies are rarely cowards. 
Bullies come in various shapes and sizes. Observe yours. Gather intelligence. 
Shunning one hopeless battle is not an act of cowardice. 
Hankering for security or popularity makes you weak and vulnerable. 
Which is worse: Scorn earned by informers? Misery endured by victims? 
The brutal may have been molded by a brutality you cannot exceed. 
Let guile be your ally. 
Respect earned by integrity cannot be lost without your consent. 
Don't laugh at what you don't find funny. 
Don't support an opinion you don't hold. 
The independent befriend the independent. 
Adolescence dies in its fourth year. You live to be eighty.

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