Confusing a brusque manner with bullying has fuelled the rise of kiddy-on hardmen like Nigel Farage and the far-right because voters crave strong leaderhip, writes Kevan Christie.
I phoned my old man – an ex-head teacher and football manager – the other day and told him I wanted his advice as I was going to write a bit about bullying, what with the ongoing stuff in the media concerning the SNP MP Joanna Cherry and various other incidents.
“Who the f***’s Joanna Cherry?” was his reply.
“You know the MP, she’s a QC as well – Joanna Cherry the QC, MP.”
“Never heard of her.”
I knew at that point I hadn’t exactly got off to a flyer.
What a lovely position my dad is in – retired from running some of our toughest schools, obsessed with golf and Arsenal FC, plays with his grandkids, never on Twittter and doesn’t watch the Scottish news. Why would he need to know who Joanna Cherry, the QC, MP, is?
But no matter how ripe the bullying allegations against Joanna Cherry the QC, MP may or may not be, they’re there now and will appear every time someone Googles her name.
Of course I wouldn’t want to speculate on an ongoing investigation – heaven forbid. However, the issue of bullying has gotten increasingly complex in recent times and I have my own suspicions as to what often lies at the root of the complaints.
Bullying used to be a straight-up black-and-white issue with no shades of grey. It occurred when someone was physically assaulted and there wasn’t much room for debate – a playground punch in the nose often offends.
I spent my school days trying to avoid it but quickly realised – like all my mates who also had big mouths – I was going to cop a kicking at some point.
The secret was to emit a low gurgling sound not dissimilar to a death rattle in the hope they eventually got bored and left you alone.
Nowadays, bullying often gets confused with being unkind and those in positions of authority have the impossible task of becoming third-party arbitrators to what is often nothing more than a perceived slight.
Don’t get me wrong, genuine bullying, be it physical or psychological is a massive stain on society, with huge steps being taken to recognise and eradicate it.
I know it can lead to suicide in the most tragic of circumstances (before you take to Twitter or, worse still, go ‘beyond the wall’ into the readers’ comment section to remind me of my “obvious insensitivity”). People being unkind, giving each other dirty looks and making snide comments is human nature, not bullying – but in an ideal world it is still unacceptable.
In this climate, the workplace has become a minefield.
The more competitive the environment which pitches people against one another – like politics or sales – the more scope there is for accusations of bullying.
Driven, forceful people who are direct and get straight to the point without much thought for the feelings of others can get into trouble because of this confusion.
Often they’re just trying to get the job done and their brusque manner comes out of necessity and pressure to meet deadlines – they don’t mean to be rude.
Conversely, some people walk on eggshells at the mere thought of having to tell another member of staff they’ve made a mistake or that they disagree with them and we’re increasingly losing the ability to take orders.
It would be easy to point the finger at younger generations but that feels lazy and does not tell the full story in which bad parenting has a huge part to play.
A victimisation culture now exists – imported, like everything else in the UK, from America.
It used to be shoppping malls and burger joints we had the US to thank for, now it’s record numbers of children on medication and counselling, with ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ the get-out-of-jail-free card for badly behaved adults. John Swinney was talking about “safe spaces” for young people to learn about healthy relationships and consent earlier this week, another Americanism gobbled up by the Scottish Government who talk a great game in the current victim culture.
This is (still) the 51st state of the USA as Matt Johnson from The The once brilliantly proclaimed – his words have never been more relevant.
Scotland is in the middle of a mental health epidemic but there’s no Blitz, Famine or General Strike and a generation of workers think getting a row from the boss is bullying.
Groupthink has replaced individuality and anyone who expresses strong opinions that run contrary to the herd is singled out.
I’ve been told twice in the past week by fellow journalists that “I can’t say that” when simply expressing a different view. These are people who claim to protect and uphold freedom of speech.
The likes of the revered Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Winston Churchill, Gordon Brown and Maggie Thatcher (the milk snatcher) wouldn’t have gotten to first base in their careers if they were just starting out today and attempted to deploy the tactics that made them hugely successful.
They’d be hauled up for bullying and sent on a training course to encourage empathy and an understanding of the feelings of others at best – but only if they managed to avoid the sack.
Fergie ‘bullied’ players, referees, journalists and other managers – it was his modus operandi and millions loved him for it. Alastair Campbell, another bully, essentially gave him a knighthood – “a very New Labour honour”.
David Beckham never loved Sir Alex – as a flying football boot to eye will attest – but still owes him his career and shows him the utmost respect.
So, why do some people love bullies? Well 63 million Americans voted for Trump, the daddy of all bullies, and they’re not all duelling banjos.
Nigel Farage is riding high on the crest of potential victory at the European elections as his Brexit Party tries to get elected to that thing they’re trying to leave.
Across Europe, a raft politicians from parties like the Five Star Movement in Italy and Dutch politician Geert Wilders Party for Freedom pursue a populist anti-establishment agenda.
Their methods are simple, they create an enemy – migrants for instance, then bully them, which millions of voters who are fed up of being told how to think by perceived elites buy into.
People crave strong leadership, someone to take care of the hard stuff and kiddy-on hardmen like Farage and Boris Johnson prey on this and look for weakness. It’s fake bravado and they need to be stopped.
But first, we’ll all need to toughen up.