Home » How empathy taught me a life lesson on bullying

How empathy taught me a life lesson on bullying

by Wanjiku Wanderi - Jorgensen

Empathy was a constant standard in my mum’s house and one that would help me navigate the world of bullies.
Growing up, she always made it clear to my brothers and me, that we had to have empathy, compassion and respect for each other. These values were especially crucial in the way we related to each other and divided up house chores.


My mum would always say, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and see the world from their point of view.”  She liked to use this was her analogy whenever she empathised on the need for empathy.

The real test of our family’s grit came when my parents split up. I was ten years old, and shortly after my two elder brothers left for school in my paternal village.


Mum, a housewife, found herself vulnerable as she had to pay the rent, buy the food as well as pay for my school fees. Whenever she was trouble, she would tell me, “It’s you and me against the world, my child”.


We lived in a single room house with threadbare furniture, a busted leather sofa. Our TV was an old junk that my father had been hoodwinked into buying. The TV only worked for one day, but we kept anyway because back then having a TV was a 


 But, I was that kid in school who wore second-hand clothes and often had no pocket money.


 I was less-privileged than my peers, short and very chubby and with a thick Kikuyu accent in my English. My weaknesses and vulnerabilities became targets for bullies.


My mother and I had a close relationship. What she lacked with money, she made up with lots of affection and attention. I had a happy childhood.

Boarding school taunting


There was a particular group of girls who were especially vicious towards me. They victimised and made my life in boarding school, an anxious hell.


I remember once walking into the dormitory, sporting my new uniform, that was a Christmas gift. I noticed one of the girl’s from the clique, whisper something to her ‘cool’ ringleader.


 Soon the girls were chanting while pointing at me. “Msichana wa ghetto! Msichana wa ghetto!” ( the ghetto girl).


 At that very moment, my self-confidence dissipated. This moment was the beginning of nightmarish life in boarding school. These girls, and their leader, in particular, gave me absolute hell.


I had become a target of constant taunting and ostracisation. I never had a close friend or best friend in school. Everyone seemed to fit into a particular clique except me. In retrospect, being a misfit made me have empathy toward other ‘misfits’.


 At 13, I ran away from school. The bullying had driven me to a breaking point.


My um refused to hear anything about me wanting to join my brothers in the village school.


She was not going to let me humiliate her and prove the naysayers right. She dragged me back to school and dumped me in the Principal’s office.
My mum declared that I was his problem and, he was responsible for fixing the bullying. And sure enough, nobody bullied me again.


Why empathy matters

After my botched escape, I made an unlikely friendship with Mary-Alice, the classroom’s pariah. My new friend had some ‘growing pains’ as she had matured earlier than most of the girls our age.


As a result, it became difficult for her to mingle with the other girls for fear of ridicule. In spite, of her challenges, Mary was intelligent, witty, and genuine. 


We found respite in each other’s company, which was what we needed to survive the last two years of boarding school. And boy did it feel good!


I am fortunate to have a mum who instilled in us the value of empathy and respect towards other people. She taught my brothers and me, not to look down on others.


Besides, my share of bullying in school taught me that everyone has a story to tell. The affable are not doormats, and the popular ones have their insecurities.


Bullying, among children, is a learned behaviour. A bully, is often, yearning for attention. The need to be noticed could stem from parental neglect, or because the parents themselves are bullies.


 I can’t help but wonder about the band of bullies in my dormitory; did they morph into adult bullies? Or did life teach them the value of empathy?


This, of course, I will never know. One thing is sure though. I will always remember the effects of bullying. The isolation, anxiety and depression that comes from being on the receiving end.


Bullying, of course, happens everywhere – in schools, workplaces, families, and social media.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world; if we did, bullies would not exist. But if bullying can be learned, so can empathy.
It begins by treating others how you want to them treat you. Self-awareness will be your prerequisite to being a more empathetic person




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Anonymous July 16, 2008 - 2:34 pm

Disclaimer: The Names in this article bear no resemblance to any real or non-existing person, nor events. This is a fictious article!

Wairimu Kinuthia July 24, 2008 - 8:34 am

I really feel for Eva.Probably because I went through the same ish of being ignored and being snickered at. I hated primary school,and up to today I can’t seem to forget just how lonely I was and how pathetic they made me feel. You’d think who I am now had nothing to do with who I was then, but I guess it does. I actually feel grateful that they ignored me….I never wanted to spend my time with them, anyway. If you were ever in my thoughts then, Jesus..!I was an observer, and I learnt ALOT about people that way. I finally embraced my loneliness, geekyness and pathetic-ness(pardon all that wrong grammar, but you know what I mean?)
Carrot(aka Carol), my best friend then, made it easier. At least I had one person I could rely on………….And I grew up.Okay,I’m still growing up.

Judy Wanderi July 24, 2008 - 8:41 am

You turned out alright Ruthie!Some dysfunctional traits here and there, but generally alright, and a damn good friend at that…

Anonymous August 15, 2008 - 4:25 pm

Thank you for sharing memories of the past. It is precisely these expriences that shape and make us the people we are today. I am happy that out the negative peer confrontations, came a positive virtue – empathy! A fantistic read indeed – Charles

Anonymous August 15, 2008 - 4:25 pm

Thank you for sharing memories of the past. It is precisely these expriences that shape and make us the people we are today. I am happy that out the negative peer confrontations, came a positive virtue – empathy! A fantistic read indeed – Charles

Ciru October 8, 2008 - 6:57 am

ngai, judy, yani we were living the same life except me I was a kichwa ngumu mbaya! Thats how I nurse, empathy! am in shock yani, that has brought so much yani!!!!!!!!!!

Merciempolo May 2, 2014 - 3:57 am

So profound! This would be great for our anti-bullying campaigns. Please keep your blogs coming.

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