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Fighting strategies from bully and bullied 40 years on



Having been a bully and someone who was bullied, Clinton Fein and Bryan Schimmel are on a mission to use their experience to eradicate bullying from schools and get children to understand what’s behind it.

Fein bullied Schimmel, an award-winning music director, arranger, and orchestrator, when they were pupils at King David High School Linksfield (KDHSL), so it’s fitting that 40 years after matriculating (in 1982), they launched their project at the same school.

Today, they have reconciled and are good friends, but they realise that bullying hasn’t gone away.

“When [KDHSL Principal] Lorraine Srage had the foresight to reach out to us after she saw the article about us in the SA Jewish Report [in March 2022], we knew that there would be no place better to launch this presentation than at King David Linksfield,” said Fein, a writer, activist, and artist.

Wanting to provide a roadmap for bullies and the bullied, they offered their perspective on this topic during their presentation at the school on 26 May. The following day, they spoke at the school’s assembly.

“Why are a bully and his victim sharing the same stage four decades after the fact?” asked Schimmel. “It’s highly unusual, if not unique. But our school story isn’t. In fact, it’s more common than you think.”

“What makes a bully a bully?” asked Fein. “How can we heal from the damage internalised years after being bullied, or even prevent the all-too-frequent teen suicides and mass shootings?”

If we don’t examine bullying through a lens of empathy and understanding, the consequences can be dire if not deadly, said Fein. “As we saw in Texas this week, there was a report in The Washington Post that the gunman who murdered 19 children and two schoolteachers was bullied on the basis of a speech impediment and other reasons.”

“Coincidentally, I also have a speech impediment,” said Schimmel. As a student at King David primary and high schools, he was a nerd, loner, and teacher’s pet, he said. “The only time I played soccer was in mandatory PT class. I did score one goal – for the opposing team.”

Fein, on the other hand, was sporty, and had quite a dominant personality. Coming from a divorced home with parents and step parents who were forever at each other’s throats, he attended HA Jack Primary School during his earlier years. “When I was about 11 years old, I realised that I was attracted to boys,” said Fein. “It was the worst realisation of my life because I had grown up to believe that it was shameful and wrong, so I had to suppress it at all costs.”

He did this by pretending to be straight, and dating the prettiest girl in the school.

“We all had secrets going into high school,” said Schimmel. “I had my first sexual encounter with somebody in Grade 8. Finally, I understood what being different was all about.”

Before King David, Fein went to Highlands North Boys High School, where bullying was rampant. “I played rugby, deliberately got into fights, and embraced toxic masculinity,” he recalled.

During all his years at KDHSL, Schimmel found himself in the same class as his worst bully, whose name was David. “I would take constant abuse and I didn’t have the know-how, smarts, or self-confidence to fight back. They were the most popular boys in school. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, you arrived,” said Schimmel, turning to Fein. “I remember the look on your face every time you punched me and every time you made me feel like shit.”

Schimmel asked, “Of all the students in the school, why me?”

Fein responded, “It wasn’t about you. By aggressively bullying you and mercilessly mocking and making fun of you, I could hide in plain sight.”

One day, Schimmel found the courage to do something that seems unthinkable. “I was mildly obsessed with one of the popular boys, whose name was Gary Allen. I wrote him a note, and asked him if he would meet me at second break behind the hall.”

When that moment arrived, “Gary appeared like a knight in shining armour,” recalled Schimmel. “His caring eyes were looking at me with such kindness and compassion. I knew I had found an ally amongst all the boys I feared.”

With Allen in his corner, the bullying calmed down.

At some point after matriculating, Schimmel went to New York, but spiralled into drug addiction and self-harm, and returned to South Africa to heal.

Fein’s journey saw him live in New York, travel Europe, and then settle in Los Angeles. He eventually came out to his friends and family. He worked in the film industry before taking on the United States government and US Navy over the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act. He won.

In 2019, Alain Soriano, a mutual school friend of Fein and Schimmel told the latter, “Clinton is back in the country. You should meet.”

Hearing the story from Schimmel’s perspective made Fein understand how his behaviour had scarred Schimmel. “It was devastating for me to hear, and I’m just truly, truly sorry,” said Fein.

“I forgive you,” responded Schimmel.

Forgiving Fein wasn’t about letting him off the hook or okaying his behaviour. “It was about freedom and closure for me,” said Schimmel.

Bullying is inevitable, said Schimmel, so we must work towards a paradigm of harm reduction.

“That begins by recognising unhealthy competitiveness, the flaunting of privilege, peer and parental pressure, and the words young people are exposed to about the state of the country and the world,” said Fein. “All of these things are scenarios that create a victim mentality.”

Understand that hurt people hurt people, said Fein and Schimmel. “Tap into why somebody has brought a bullying mentality and attitude into school,” said the latter.

Parents, students, and teachers need to recognise bullying in all its forms, said Fein, and then learn how to manage it. “This begins with healthy, constructive dialogue which creates an environment that’s tolerant and empathetic.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Esti Abelson

    Jun 12, 2022 at 9:59 am

    I would love to get in touch with these two guys as I too was a victim of being bullied and am dying to get involved with any sort of program against it!! Please can they reach me

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