Prince William seems to have thrown himself into National Stand Up To Bullying Day (sic), "warning that unrelenting torment isn't just confined to the playground". It's an odd one, isn't it? Aside from places like prison or street-life in various unsalubrious neighbourhoods where the threat of physical violence is real, or in sordid workplaces where the threat of instant loss of livelihood is a serious prospect, how could grown adults be susceptible to bullying? Well they are, and it's a striking phenomenon.
I suffered very little from bullying at school: we were a rugby-playing outfit, and everyone knew that however big a 16-year old would-be tyrant thought he was, there were any number of First-XV prefects who could mallet him effortlessly if he overstepped the mark. Being beasted at Sandhurst was tough, but never personal. It came as a shock, therefore, to find myself suffering under a bully in my first regimental posting: it was the CO, a petty tyrant whom I rapidly learned to avoid. (It was because he was thick, had never been to university or Staff College, knew he was never going any higher, and had a mile-wide inferiority complex.) I learned just how easily heavy-duty brow-beating comes to a certain type of overbearing individual, and how effective it can be even with people who are not of a particularly nervous disposition, and who'd ordinarily reckon to be able to fend for themselves without difficulty.
Having come under the thumb of this bastard, I vowed there and then never again to succumb. One knows perfectly well that in most everyday environments there is absolutely no prospect of physical violence; and while you can perhaps be threatened with the sack etc, in reality it's almost always just bluster, however genuinely unpleasant.
This resolution has served me just fine, in the military and as a civvy: indeed the issue never seemed to arise again. That was until in business I ran into a well-known commmercial negotiator from another oil company, we'll call him Jim (because it's just possible he hasn't succumbed to the ulcers he was obviously due). His reputation went before him - "nobody ever stands up to Jim" - but somehow our paths hadn't crossed: until one day in a new job I found myself across the table from him. Our two companies had a minor commercial tiff and Jim, contemptuous of the efforts of his underlings in the dispute, had decided to take the matter into his own hands. I invited them to our offices, and there they were, six of them under Jim's glowering leadership.
Only Jim spoke (the rest - all grown adults, of course, lawyers and negotiators alike - looked utterly in thrall to him). He started softly: there must, he presumed, have been a fundamental misunderstanding on my part, obviously I was new etc etc; but I had thwarted him which was completely unacceptable. He was here to have me reverse my position on the spot, publicly. I politely demurred: the exchange of correspondence between us that I had on the table in front of me clearly supported chapter-and-verse my position, which I proposed to maintain.
He raised his voice, his face blackened, and I could see his people sinking into their chairs. Those who dared to flash a glance in my direction were clearly imploring me to concede in my own best interests. He thumped the table, told me my company had once been good to do business with but was now beyond the pale; that it was entirely my fault; and that he would be taking the matter directly to my CEO.
I stood up and told him I was leaving, but that he and his crew were welcome to continue using the conference room if they wished. I said that the CEO's office was on the second floor, if he'd like to call in afterwards; and bad them good afternoon.
Needless to say, a couple of days later a written apology arrived in the post; the misunderstanding was his & he hoped we could move forward etc etc. And so we did.
But Jim generally prevailed, and made a lot of mileage for his company and himself using the bullying tactic elsewhere, before and since. When one reads about the behaviour of the Fred Goodwins ("he manufactured fear") and the Bernie Madoffs ("people were afraid of Bernie"), one is in no doubt that they rose to great pinnacles in their respective callings by the same means.
Bullying adults? It's real, right enough.