Confessions of a bully

If you possess an ounce of morality, it would be difficult to read about the bullying and fear suffered by 16-year-old apprentice train manufacturer Alec Meikle before he committed suicide.

A NSW coronial inquest has heard that while on the job at the Bathurst plant of Downer EDI, Meikle was burnt with a welding torch, sprayed with adhesive, set on fire and told he'd be raped with a steel dildo "if he made too many mistakes".

On Monday, a train builder, David Hall, said it was a "loss of concentration" that led him to squirt Meikle with a flammable contact cleaner as the teen welded a metal plate, resulting in his gloves and forearm briefly catching fire.

While I make no concessions for a grown man bullying a teenage boy, it was sadly predictable Hall had also been the victim of ''practical jokes'' when he was a younger worker.

"These included being dragged across the shop floor by the feet, being water bombed, hit with balls covered in electrical tape and having the gas turned down or off while welding," writes the SMH's Paul Bibby.

''It's just the way it was I guess - it's an old industry that hasn't sort of changed,'' Hall told the inquest.

A superficial look at Hall suggests to me he's the type who may have been the butt of jokes. Maybe not, maybe I'm reading too much into his statements but, from experience, I know the second-lowest man on the totem pole is often the most vicious enemy of the lowest and that seems to have been Alec.

I'm rather familiar with this dynamic because I too was bullied at school, then changed it up as I reached higher grades and became a bully myself. I like to think of it as a childhood aberration because I now despise bullies but, the fact remains I bullied several boys at school.

I can't say I made a conscious decision to do this but somewhere in my roiling teenage brain I realised if I targeted someone else, there was less chance of the mob's crosshairs settling on me.


When I was in Years 5 and 6, I copped it savagely for reasons I still don't entirely understand but suspect were linked to me being somewhat bookish, articulate and effeminate.

The pattern continued in Years 7 and 8 at my new high school but seemed to settle on my ethnicity - being a wog, "f---ing off back to my own country", etc.

In one of the most moving pieces I've ever read about bullying, ESPN's Matthew Berry wrote recently "for me, the thing that gets lost the most is the fear".

"I'm not saying it isn't mentioned, because it is. Just as a throwaway, somewhere in the middle, as part of a list, a quick reason as to why, and then quickly moved off of. But not as a focus, and for me, fear is the key to the whole thing."

Berry writes:

You live in fear. That's the fear I'm talking about. The fear no one seems to mention. The fear of repercussion, of making it worse, of what's coming next. Constant, debilitating fear.

You become distrustful, questioning people's motives. Is this just a joke on me? She couldn't really like me, right? Why are they inviting me to this party? Do they want me there or is this some elaborate prank? It permeates your every waking thought and moment. Maybe if I'm super-nice, they'll stop. Or if I play along and pretend it doesn't bother me, they'll stop. You have to do something, because you can't do nothing. You're trapped. You can't quit school, or your job or your professional football team. Right?

I remember one time after tennis practice, a group of us went to go get drinks at a convenience store. We all piled into one kid's car. We got out, I walked in first, when all of sudden they all turned, jumped back into the car and left me. This was obviously before the days of cell phones or anything. That was a long, two-mile walk back to school, where I found them playing hoops and laughing at me.

I know this feeling in my bones.

It was lunch time and my primary school was eating sandwiches on rows of silver aluminium benches and I sat down with my 'friends'. They stood in unison and moved to another seat - ten or 15 girls and boys - leaving me on this one, long bench alone.

It went on for weeks. They pretended I did not exist. It was calculated. Agreed upon by every one of my friends. One lunch time it came to a head. I don't remember what I said. All I know is one of twin brothers punched me in the face, the first time I had ever been punched.

I ran home crying from that same nest of benches. Right up the main footpath, watched by the whole school as they ate their sandwiches. I still feel sick thinking about it.

When you go through stuff like that as a kid, you do anything to avoid it, to not let it happen again. I saw the writing on the wall in Year 8, at my new school, and knew I had to do something.

I joined the pack.

I learned to spot other boys' weaknesses and I did what David Hall did. Again, not as an adult attacking a teenager, but as a teenager bullying other boys in my class.

To his credit, Matthew Berry, never did this. He writes:

To this day, because of experiences I had as a child and frankly, as an adult, I am more distrustful than I want to be. I worry good things will be taken away or shouldn't be counted on, I am more cautious with people and less quick to let them into my life, and I have a huge issue with anything I perceive as bullying or intentional cruelty, be it in real life or online. It's among the reasons I am quick to block on Twitter. Life's too short to deal with people who feel the need to send out any sort of negativity, especially to someone they've never met.

We are all products of our environment and upbringing. I am, completely. I live with those scars to this day and I honestly don't know what I would do if I ever saw one of those tormenters again. And I bet those people probably don't remember they were tormenters. Most bullies don't. I would bet I'm the only one of that group who even remembers when I was left behind at the store. People are often blissfully unaware that something that seems small to you can in fact be very large to someone else.

It wasn't until I read those words I realised I had been a bully. Many times. The details do not matter. I even talked recently with a fellow school friend and bully about something we'd done to a classmate. We laughed. It was just a "practical joke" after all.

It was bullying.

In his stunning best-seller Man's Search for Meaning, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl describes how many former concentration camp inmates suffered damage to their "moral and spiritual health".

"People with natures of a more primitive kind could not escape the influences of the brutality which had surrounded them in camp life. Now, being free, they thought they could use their freedom licentiously and ruthlessly. The only thing that had changed for them was that they were now the oppressors instead of the oppressed," wrote Frankl.

This is also often the path taken by the bullied who become the bully. It in no way excuses the tragedy of what happened to Alec Meikle or the weakness displayed by Hall and by myself as a teenager.

If I'd been in Meikle's workplace as an adult, I would have stopped the bullying or gotten fired trying.

Some of us grow up.

Sadly, kids like Alec never get the chance to.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.