Verbal Bullying: Is Hard In An Australian Environment

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Verbal Bullying: Batteries Not Included

I've actually dropped the topic of verbal bullying and abuse from my self defense program and I'll tell you why.

It's certainly not because I don't think it is a problem. There is little doubt that kids and adults alike have to confront this kind of bullying all the time. By Gingo's (now there is and old Australian expression for you) I was exposed to it every day when I was a child and even for a short time when I started working.

No I dropped the topic because I found that:
  1. The people that were coming to my club were not expressing any experience of it
  2. I found it much more effective to deal with the Judoka's confidence in general that to deal with it specifically.
Besides the only program that I had any kind of liking to was the in the bin approach of Kid Power.

However whilst the trash can approach to verbal bullying worked great for little kids who had just recently been introduced to new unfamiliar social environments, the children that came to my classes were often confronting much more subtle, complex and sometimes even more insidious forms. Worse still many did not even admit to the problem; by far the majority. This simple solution was not enough.

Not admitting the problem is no surprise in the context of Australian culture. Many of the students may have felt quite uncomfortable that it even bothered them.

Verbal Bullying And Australian Culture

You see Australian verbal culture can be difficult to navigate even for those of us who have grown up with it; let alone the younger generation.

Here we have a culture where it is totally dependent on both tone and context as to whether calling someone a derogatory name; "Bastard" (or something much worse) for example, is actually verbal bullying, just an insult or actually complement.

Whilst it can be complex for those of us bought up in this environment sometimes it is next to impossible for those who come to our country from overseas. However I am going to use a couple of examples of such people confronting our verbal culture because ironically, the complexity is easier to explain that way.

Image of woman being calm under verbal bullying by a man with a megaphone
Confidence In The Face of Verbal Abuse
A perfect example of this is in the legend of the English Cricket captain Jardine who became notorious for his use of the Body Line attack in bowling. After one player was bowled out, he was heard to call the captain a "bastard".

Even though, in the context of what he was doing the abuse was quite understandable, Jardine was incensed and approached the Australian captain in the dressing rooms after the game, demanding an apology.

The Australian captain when told what had happened is said to have said: "that's terrible" and immediately turned to his fellow players saying: "Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard". The English captain gave up and left. There was clearly no way to establish a complement from abuse in this context as everything was implied.

Another example is the experience of friends of ours who came from the USA. The husband John (not his real name) was a US Marine on secondment to the Australian Army and all his children were in Australian schools whilst he was here. One of his children, Frank (again not his real name) began to experience verbal bullying.

The US marines had a lot of resources made available for this sort of thing at the time and the problem got so bad that they were wondering whether to call in these resources.

To cut a long story short, after a lot of work it was discovered that it was a US - Australian verbal cultural issue. To paraphrase John: "We just didn't understand that Australians take banter a lot further than we are used to". The other kids had no idea that they were saying anything that would upset Frank and whilst no one can be sure that no body intended to be mean, certainly the biggest majority had no intention of being so.

I hope you can see that throwing mean words in the imaginary bin here would not have been effective.

So what do we do? Should we just give up and consider combating verbal bullying hopeless? Not At All!

Just because I have dropped the topic from my self defense program, does not mean I have given up on this issue.

What I have done is drawn on my own childhood experience. All the verbal bullying and physical bullying just went away a few months after I started Judo.

That's not because I became more skillful or more aggressive; most would never have even known I did Judo. It went away because I became more confident. So that is what I teach now. I teach people to be more confident.

Total confidence is key. If people become more confident the verbal bullying doesn't necessarily go away it just become less effective. Which is the intent of the Trash Can method.

This was bought home to me in my first year of full time work when I lost my confidence for a short while and one of my bosses tried to take advantage of that. Every time I made a mistake I was made to feel a fool to satisfy his sense of power and control. The result was I made even more mistakes and the circle went on relentlessly.

When I realized what had happen and regained my confidence everything changed. So much so that at the end of the year my boss said to me: " What happened Rich(he used a much more derogatory name but we wont go into that) you've not made any mistakes lately".

I can't promise that building confidence will make verbal bullying go away and I certainly can't promise that it won't hurt when people are mean to you. I can't even promise that it will stop you from making mistakes.

I can promise that building confidence will make you stronger and being stronger makes you more resilient.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7

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