More than tennis

I was watching tennis as a wide eyed 12 year old when it became clear that I was never cut out to be ruthless.  At least in retrospect. And maybe to my father.

Growing up in Melbourne, watching the Australian Open was as much a part of summer as the Boxing Day Test, barbecues, hijacking a neighbours pool with the rest of the local kids and beach holidays. While the Australian Open is the premier tennis event in Australia, we watched it half heartedly though, none of us being particularly passionate about tennis.  I think many feel the same - at least for the first two weeks of the tournament with world rank 96.5 battling top ten gladiators there are a host of mismatches. It was during one of these mismatches  in 1993 with the then 96.5 ranked player facing annihilation that I asked my father: "Why doesn't he just let the other guy win a couple of games so that it's a closer match and everyone feels better about it?" The die was cast. A win at all costs attitude wasn't for me. I didn't like it.

For the next 20 years I railed against that attitude. It wasn't a decision I made, it was subconscious, deep within me.  I never quite knew what made me uncomfortable, I just knew that in certain situations I was always defensive, nervous, fighting for my sanity, my place and my self respect. I was always watching my back at work, at home... in relationships. The feeling crossed boundaries, I felt victimised or manipulated. I always thought that something was wrong with me - after all, other people didn't feel like that did they?

"No, the problem is with me - just suck it up and deal with it. Move on. Don't let it get you down."

Only, I'm not sure that the problem actually WAS with me. I'm not sure that the problem IS with me.

The problem is bullying.

Read any newspaper, any week, anywhere in Australia and bullying will be right there in the mix.

The paper will decree that this has to stop. The magazine will preach of the lasting impact of bullying on young boys, girls, women (rarely men). The television will expose in graphic re-enacted detail what people go through. But it doesn't stop. The impact continues and the re-enactments are, well, re-enacted time and again.

Those same newspapers, magazines, television broadcasts show almost juxtaposed our leaders in business, sport, politics, media as prized bullies. Those same newspapers, magazines, television broadcasts continue to hold up as examples those who engage in destructive behaviour. Is it any wonder that the aspiring, the dreaming, the ambitious see this as a path to success. If it works for our leaders, it must work for me too.

In recent weeks bullies have been brought to account in politics, sport and media - but they still abound, are still justified by a "survival of the fittest" mentality. Big strides have been made, but these bullies now claim that THEY are the victims. That people's free speech in response to their actions is not acceptable. That withdrawing customer support from corporations who support bullies is "cyberbullying".  Speaking up against bullying works though. It is well known that bullies can't accept criticism and need self validation. We have reached a point now where we are tipping the balance against institutionalised bullying. Let's not let them get the upper hand again.