Removing Bullies: Ben Smithwell at TEDxOmagh (Full Transcript)

Ben Smithwell – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

OK, cool. So we’ve got this little girl at home. She’s about four years old. She’s super funny. We love her to bits. She’s crazy. She’s got this crazy mop of blond hair, and she’s so funny.

She’s kind as well and she’s a bright little spark, and she’s mischievous as hell, which we love about her. And she’s got her daddy wrapped around her little finger.

One day, she came home from nursery, and she said, “Daddy, someone was really nasty to me today.”

And you know what? I didn’t read too much into it because I thought: Ah, you know kids. They’re just trying to bumble their way through life like everyone else, trying to figure out these complex rules of how to live and not be nasty to people. It’s complex for small people like these young little toddlers.

But then, it happened again, and she came back and said, “Daddy, someone’s been really, really nasty.”

And then it happened again, and again, and again, and, all of a sudden, it had been two, three weeks. And we couldn’t believe it. We realized that she was being bullied.

At this age, I didn’t realize that this was a thing. Maybe I’m naive. And we spoke to the nursery and, you know, they were great, they were brilliant. But the problem with this kind of bullying is that it often happens backstage, doesn’t it, when no one’s looking.

And it got worse and worse, and the poor little girl, she’d be coming from nursery sometimes in tears, and we were seeing this sparky, happy little character just slowly withdrawing into herself. She’d talk about it at her bedtime, and it’d be there with her when she got up in the mornings.

I’d take her into nursery and, as soon as she’d see this other kid that was doing the bullying, she would physically recoil and hide behind my leg. We didn’t know what to do. Our advice wasn’t helping her.

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Kids in the UK now are pretty miserable. The Good Childhood Report by The Children’s Society came out early on this year, and, when the researchers were looking through all of the interviews and the surveys with kids, aged 8 to 17, what do you think the big, common themes were, that were coming through?

What were the words that children were most using, more often than any others, to describe their lives, their environments and experiences?

‘Friends’, ‘family’ and ‘bullying’!

38% of these children said that they’d been hit by a classmate in the last month. 50% of them said that they’d been left out by their peers in the last month. And the rest of the report’s pretty grim reading as well.

But here’s the headline for you: out of 15 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa — 28,000 children, I think, they spoke to — the kids in the UK are unhappier at school than their counterparts and peers in pretty much any other country in the world.

And it got me thinking: if this is a case for our children, what hope is there for the adults they become? What hope is there for the society that we’re building?

And you know what? It is too late, because we’ve already built it. Because bullying is not just a school yard problem. It is rife within our organizations, it is an epidemic of the workplace, and we’re not talking about it.

The CIPD said a while back they think that every year the UK economy loses 18 million working days to workplace bullying, sickness absence.

Acas [The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service] a couple of weeks ago said that the sum cost and impact to the UK economy each year is 18 billion pounds, and that’s not even to think about the human cost, the destroyed careers, the wrecked home lives, the broken down relationships, the mental health, the suicides.

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And yes, sure, we’re good at legislating. We legislate against discriminating, quite rightly, on the grounds of age, sex, gender, disability, sexuality. It doesn’t mean we’re good at doing anything about it, but we legislate.

BUT WHAT ABOUT BULLYING?

Another problem. All the bullies in the workplace, you could call them ‘equal opportunities’ bullies. They don’t care about the color of your skin, they don’t care who you fall in love with or which god you pray to, and they’re not breaking any particular law.

You see, this kind of bullying, it falls between the cracks. It happens between the lines on the page. Very rarely does it become physical. Often it’s very subtle but sustained.

And, over a period of days and months, sometimes years, people are slowly ground down by this behavior.

WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT IT?

Again, Acas found from their research that people are simply too fearful to come forward. They fear the repercussions — which makes me think that being bullied at work is a lonely place to be.

And what I want to know is: who’s got their back? Is it our leaders and managers? I’m not sure, because, depending on which study you choose to believe, anything between 65% and 95% of the instances of bullying in the workplace are committed in a downwards direction.

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