I have to admit I was a bit slow to come around to the understanding of how much of an impact bullying could have. This was probably shaped by my own experiences growing up. I certainly experienced a bit of it through school (if I’m honest, I’d have to say I probably instigated a bit too- the tough things about having made mistakes in the past is you can never undo them, but at least you can learn from them).
My experiences were pretty low grade and I didn’t experience any real lasting harm as a result, so my initial thoughts around bullying were that it was something that everyone just went through and dealt with. Without doubt that was a position of ignorance and immaturity.
I didn’t need the death of Chloe Ferguson to make this clear to me. I just needed a couple of people close to me to have the courage to share their struggles and my worldview changed almost overnight. Needless to say I now have a much greater appreciation for the power we have to hurt one another- often without even realising- and as a result take mental health and bullying extremely seriously.
At its worst, bullying is a repeated pervasive intrusion on a person’s life that they often feel powerless to stop. In these circumstances, particularly when the victim is emotionally vulnerable or the behaviour coincides with other upheaval in the victim’s life, the impact can be catastrophic.
But is that what happened when Rene met Ruth?
Based on the reporting of the event and Ms Forrest’s own public statements on the matter, it appears Rene Hidding approached her at a public event and rather forcefully tried to convince her not to vote against upcoming government legislation, saying that doing so would jeopardise funding for projects in her electorate.
Ms Forrest is an experienced politician who presumably (since she recently voted to give herself a 10.5% pay rise) realises the job will have challenging moments and conflict. I believe she may well have felt intimidated and disempowered. If Mr Hidding’s words were overly aggressive or coercive, I am glad she called him out for it, but I wonder about Ms Forrest’s choice of words.
Did she have to describe her treatment as bullying?
As I said, Forrest is no novice to politics or public speaking, so this is a deliberate choice of words and one wonders if it was selected for shock value more than accuracy, in order to depict Mr Hidding in a negative light- something he often does pretty well without any help.
As I said, I don’t in anyway dispute she found the incident confrontational and distressing. I certainly don’t seek to defend Mr Hidding in the matter. His behaviour sounds rude and boorish.
But does Ms Forrest really think this unpleasant conversation- from which she already claims to have moved on from- is in any way comparable to the experiences of people who experience real systemic bullying that they can’t fight back against or get away from?