Steven was only eight when the bullying started in school.
He didn’t know it was bullying; didn’t know what it was, so he never told his teacher, never told his parents when he went home.
Back in next day and it happened again… and every day thereafter, aged 9, 10, 11 and 12 until he transitioned to a new Senior School. Four years – and be never told a soul.
His prayers appeared to be answered when he arrived to the new school to find his bullies had moved to another school in the area. Happy days.
But what happened? New bullies found Steven! And the pattern resumed for three more years.
For seven years, Steven had been picked on every day in school and never breathed a word…
Then one day, aged 15, Steven had enough and thought, “That’s it, the pain stops today.”
To find out what happened, watch my TEDx talk, (highly recommended) or read the speech draft below…
Thankfully Steven did something positive with those thoughts and tackled his bullies.
He didn’t tackle them physically because that would’ve defeated the whole purpose.
No. Steve spoke to them!
He said, “Lads I’ve been thinking and I’ve made a decision – I’m ok being Steven, I’m enough. We’ll never be best mates and that’s ok, but can we just get past this madness and get on with our lives?”
And the bullies said, “Ok. Sorry Steven.”
And that was it. It was over. Like somebody turned off a bullying tap that had been running for seven consecutive years.
A 30-second conversation was all it took,
But it took seven years of Steven’s little life for Steven to be ready for those thirty seconds.
When I heard Steven’s story, I began to study bullying and I learned some stuff I never knew I never knew.
I mistakenly thought there were only 2 people in every act of bullying – the victim and the bully.
I was wrong, there are at least three; it’s more like a triangle, the victim, the bully and the bystander. There’s always, always, always someone else who knows what’s going on – usually 2, the victim’s best friend and the bully’s henchman or woman.
Given all these characters were involved, why had nobody said anything for seven years?
This is my hypothesis – allow me act this out.
Imagine I’m Steven. Why wouldn’t I tell my teachers or parents? Ironically, because… they care. They care and they would do something about it – there’d be a meeting in the Principal’s office, the bully would know he was outed, and the bullying might get worse for a time.
Imagine now I’m the bully. Am I ever going to tell teacher I’m picking on Steven? No.
I’m the henchman or woman. Am I ever going to rat my mate out? No way.
Who does that leave?
Steven’s best friend.
He also knew what was going on, yet for seven years he said nothing. It was almost like he would put his arm around Steven when he was hurting, and say “There, there.” But he may as well have been gibing the thumbs up to the bully saying “You go there, buddy. So long as you keep picking on my best friend in the world, you can count on me to say nothing!
Are they the actions of a best friend?
What changed for Steven?
In that year when he turned fifteen Steven’s self-esteem got to the point where he realized he was enough and that gave him the power he needed to have the 30-second conversation.
Positive self-esteem made all the difference.
Why am I telling you Steven’s story?
Because Steven is my son. My boy was bullied for seven years and I never knew.
I’m not proud of that – I told you for seven years Steven never told his parents, well I’m the dad that Steven for some reason let he couldn’t tell. And that makes me sad.
I’m also a tad angry to be honest – the best friend in my opinion had the least to lose and most to gain by speaking out, yet for seven years he also said nothing.
Instead of being a passive BYstander, he could have been an active UPStander
Through this experience I have learned the war on bullying, like the war on drugs cannot be won, bullies, like drugs, will never disappear.
In his exceptional TED talk, Johann Hari proposed that the antidote to addiction is connection, I propose that the antidote to bullying is positive self-esteem.
Self-esteem is the armour we can give our children and grandchildren to help them become bullyproof.
Would you like to know what happened Steven once the bullying tap was turned off? He blossomed. At graduation he was presented with an award – created just for him – the kindest boy in the school.
Looking back, we realized that that was the chink in his armour when he was eight, he was just a kind gentle boy and some others decided to take that wonderful strength and they tried to tell him it was a weakness. Thankfully, they failed.
I asked Steven would he mind if I told his story, and he said, “Please do Dad. If you tell my story to enough people perhaps, we can save other kids from going through what I went through”
Pretty generous I think you’ll agree? And I suspect he’ll agree that telling his story from the this TEDx Red Dot is not a bad start.
So, what’s our takeaway? What small changes can we make tomorrow having heard Steven’s story?
I propose let’s tell our children and grandchildren Steven’s Story for three specific reasons.
No. 1 … so that Steven’s courage in confronting his bullies can count for something?
No. 2 … Steven’s Story may become part of their self-esteem armour and may help them understand they are enough; help them become bullyproof
No. 3 … It may encourage them to become active upstanders instead of passive bystanders
If we share Steven’s Story with our children and our grandchildren, in that way, perhaps Steven’s own words will come to pass:
“…If you tell my story to enough people perhaps, we can save other kids from going through what I went through.”