We Are Stronger Than Our Bullies

It’s May 2013. I am standing in a hotel lobby at a cocktail party that we sponsor when a competitor approaches. This man has started a negative campaign against our companies with inaccurate information, and today he has already threatened the livelihood of an associate of ours. He is taller than me, heavier than me—he is big. He confronts me in a room full of our clients and proceeds to jab me in the chest while spewing angry lies about our group, our motivation, and our people. I can’t believe it; I know this guy from his past career and as a competitor, but today he has transformed into an overbearing schoolyard bully.

I do not respect bullies. They have problems, they are afraid, they have confidence issues, and in many ways I feel sorry for them. I’ve also been dealing with them for most of my life.

I am the youngest in my family, and in school, I was usually the youngest person in my class; I skipped kindergarten and went straight into Grade 1. I learned to read and write early. I wanted to be a palaeontologist—I was a nerd, a geek. I was cute, blond, intelligent, opinionated, and I had something to say on most topics—and, what was worse, I usually knew what I was talking about. My parents put me in modelling (I have a picture of me at age four in a Reader’s Digest ad for an insurance company), gymnastics, dance, acting, piano lessons, and figure skating.

I also wasn’t afraid of being intelligent or eccentric. When I was nine, I had long hair (I was a very young hippie), I wore jeans, bell-bottoms, and colourful clothing, and I went to concerts. (My hair wasn’t popular; once my brother—my at-home tormentor—pulled me out from under my bed screaming and, with the help of his friends, shaved it off. It took months to grow back.) In short, I was a target for any self-conscious, ill-tempered soul who needed to act out. Bullies started appearing in my life at an early age.

The attacks were physical, verbal, and constant—until I could work out how to deal with them. While each attack was different, they were also the same in many ways. The people afflicting me with pain were weak people; they were hurting, so they took out their pain on others as a way to deal with their own problems.

I had a survival tool on my side: a smart mind—and mouth. I used strategy and tactics. I learned to handle the initial attack and weather the storm while working on solutions for the long term. I also figured out how to be a leader; I would organize support groups around me, often including the toughest guys I knew. Or I would find the weakness in the individual or group targeting me and use it against them.

I could tell more stories, but it would give the wrong message. I had a great childhood despite my bullies; I solved the problems they caused me with innovations that got me through the day. I learned to not let bullies rule my life or stop me from doing what I wanted or dumb me down. I didn’t let them destroy me, and in many ways the challenge helped me excel. I would have been happy to do without the experiences, but I used them to my advantage in life.

Now back to the beginning: the cocktail party. I’m an adult now, too old for this—besides, I have a martial arts background, a security background, and this out-of-shape man is trying to intimidate me in front of a room full of people. I see the fear in his eyes. His threats are weak, he is weak—he has already bullied a personal friend and associate today, and now he is trying to bully me? I know he doesn’t really know my background, and I don’t back down. I stand there letting him poke me in the chest and I answer the filth with facts and truth. I feel sorry for him and his boss.

They didn’t stop there, though. They followed the confrontation days and weeks later with emails to clients, their lies and false accusations now written out. They attempted to scare our associate’s clients, to destroy his business. But it didn’t work. In time, the lies were exposed. The clients stopped worrying, the whisper campaign continued for a while and then died down, and then the emails stopped coming. Our business and our associate’s business grew and the competitors were shown for what they were: bullies.

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