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BoJo bullies besmirch the good name of everybody else

Photo by Nicky Johnston

When you’re at school there’s always one sure-fire form of bullying that raises its head every time – picking on someone because of their personal attributes. Got ginger hair? Sticky out ears? Extremely thin? Overweight? Protruding teeth? Walk differently to other people? Got a stutter? Maybe even wear glasses or have a big forehead…and heaven help you if you have more than one of any of the above.

We think this is just what children do, finding their way through life and being nasty to another person is a key part of their development. One day, apparently, they will realise how horrible they were and put it down to what people of that age do.

If only that were so. The Prime Minister of Britain has appointed a politician to the post of Foreign Secretary and all we have heard since are personal insults and digs and humiliation ad nauseam. The Tw*ttersphere went absolutely crazy with memes and jokes and column writers were falling over themselves to throw barb after barb at another human being, trying desperately to show everyone how clever they were. And the ones who realise they’re not clever at all tried to hijack other people’s original thoughts by repeating them under their own name. Hey, it got 50 likes and 22 shares so job done, does it matter that I stole it?

“Narcissistic buffoon” one editorial column in a supposedly respected national newspaper said, going on to call the politician a “joke”. Even though the person in question is one of the most self-deprecating people you are likely to meet, even though he deliberately courts laughter and knowingly puts himself in situations that give people licence to make fun of him, these well-educated people still cannot contain their eagerness to run him down and belittle him and his life’s achievements.

This is disconcerting to say the least. We are essentially bringing the bullying behaviour of the playground into the grown-up world and we are acting as though it is acceptable. The same newspapers that run front-page stories about bullied youngsters killing themselves – and express outrage and anger at what happened – then have their own employees just a few pages in using the exact same tactics as the bullies, with the unspoken understanding that a politician is fair game whereas a schoolkid is not. But what of your colleague, the one that just got promoted and you think their new post is beyond their capabilities, are they fair game? Is it okay to tear them to pieces in the full gaze of all the other staff?

No person is fair game. Absolutely nobody. Zero tolerance to bullying means zero. There are no exceptions. Bullying should not exist in schools. It should not exist in the workplace. It should not exist on our TVs and it should not exist in our newspapers. It should certainly not exist in the bodies that we set up in our name, such as the House of Commons, the BBC, Fifa, law enforcement or anywhere else.

Is calling a tall person Lofty or a red-haired person Ginge a perfectly benign thing to do or do we think the person receiving the name-calling might be affected by it in some way? You can bet your last euro that they are – probably not in a suicidal way but someone who has spent their entire lives living under a pseudonym that they did not choose is affected.

But what hope is there that this situation will change when practically everyone in the country is encouraged to engage in taking the Michael out of someone who has been expensively educated and probably has more knowledge and skills than most of the people that are having a go at him?

It’s simple, really. We should think long and hard before engaging on a character assassination. In my book, it should never happen but if it must then there have to be some bloody good reasons. Attacking a person who has done nothing different than he did the day before – indeed, dragging up what he has done in the past simply because of what someone has done to him is most certainly narcissistic buffoonery of the highest order.

Yep, we have the oh-too-common situation where the accuser is levelling a charge at the accused that precisely reflects their own behaviour. You know when you get the most incredibly selfish person accusing you of being selfish? Or the person who is as unprofessional as it is possible to be complaining to your superior about your apparent lack of professionalism?

We all know that today’s world is an upside down place where Alice Through The Looking Glass now reads more like a traditional narrative but we really must try to move on from the childish delight that poking fun at someone else seems to give us. The same argument that good parents tell their kids applies to everyone else – you wouldn’t like it being done to you, think how much it could hurt, so don’t even consider doing it to someone else.

In modern vernacular, “respect” is a word shared by many people. However, it is not a highly shared value at all. Any column writer with a scrap of professionalism would avoid tearing a person apart and trying to belittle them and any serious Editor would highlight any writing of this kind and put the instruction ‘remove it’ in the margin.

But can we remove it? This uncontrolled urge to attack another person, usually for personal gain or satisfaction? In my dreams we can but I fear that reality has a long, long way to go to catch up and that is a seriously depressing thought.

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Rory Baxter, owner of The Word Factory, has decades of experience as a writer, editor, and public relations practitioner.

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