THERE are some topics on which you would expect the old maxim of saying nothing when there is nothing nice to say to hold fast.

When Meghan Markle revealed she had recently endured a miscarriage in an essay in the New York Times, the only humane response was to express well wishes, acknowledge the succour her candour will give to other women who have experienced similar loss, or just keep walking.

Of course, this is too much to expect.

While there was plenty of the first of those two suggested responses, there was also an unhealthy dose of whataboutery. "This is terrible news," whined talk show hosts and Twitter users, "But if she wanted to leave the UK to secure her privacy then why is she telling everyone?"

This is such an obtuse misreading of the situation as to feel deliberate. The Duchess of Sussex did not want to retreat from public life. She wanted to reclaim the power to control her own narrative. That is precisely what she is doing now.

And what a way to do it. Rather than having the story leak and be splashed across hostile tabloids, she wrote a first person piece for a paper of record. No speculation, no gossip, only her own words.

The revelation of her miscarriage has understandably became the main focal point but it isn't the only focus of the essay. The essay is, with some irony, about how to heal a fractured society. She speaks of the polarisation caused by the US elections and the newly fragile nature of facts.

Where facts should be sacred, they are now open to interpretation, whether that's the outgoing President of the United States attempting to undermine his incumbent or anti-vaccine campaigners trying to throw people off accepting the Covid-19 inoculation.

She asks how we heal in a post-coronavirus world; how America grieves as a country where young black Americans are killed by police; how we mend divisions in communities. She makes a nice observation about masks partially obscuring faces and so forcing us to look each other in the eyes.

All worthy points; all reasonable points. And yet it can't merely be left at that because of who Markle is. A woman who felt she was being bullied for her sex, her race and her audacity to reject British tradition but had the temerity to reject everything she should have felt grateful for. A woman with the temerity to do something different.

A younger audience, one that will have no memory of Princess Diana, is being introduced to her story in the new season of The Crown. It is a fictionalised account but that relies on the true story, painting Diana as a sacrificial lamb. I wonder what young women make of it. I wonder if they listen to the dialogue between the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret - "What happens if she doesn't bend?" "She will break" - and recoil at a woman's life being defined in such a way.

Well, there's Meghan Markle. She didn't bend, she didn't break - she walked out. Whether you like her not, whether you value you the traditions of the Royal establishment or not, you should be glad of a princess who did not break. After last time.

The past week has shown there is really a lot of work to be done on how we frame bullying and what the response to bullying should be. The public conversation around the investigation of allegations Priti Patel bullied staff in three government departments felt somewhat retro, particularly the relentless minimising of the effects of "shouting and swearing". It was "just" shouting, it was "just" swearing - how could any real harm be done.

While there seems to be a view in some quarters that Meghan Markle is a reasonable target for bullying because she is famous, wealthy and privileged, there emerges a more surprising view that civil servants should be open to demeaning rough treatment because politics is a tough game.

The notion that some people deserve to be bullied, or should be willing to put up with it or should simply be able to deal with it well, feels like it should have faded long before now.

There was a caller to Radio 4 on Saturday who made some comment about the home secretary being unable to bully as she is a "small woman". When pressed, he seemed to think that a small woman wouldn't be capable of thumping anyone, but would merely shout to make her point known. It wasn't the most coherent take but seemed to suggest, again, that bullying isn't bullying unless it's physical.

The host, Anita Anand, was quite quick to point out that she, also petite in stature, found it quite easy not to shout and swear at colleagues. She did, though, leave listeners hanging as to the power of her left hook.

The issue of size was addressed again in the press with a right-leaning columnist asking how on earth 5ft Patel could possibly terrorise a 6ft mandarin. Attila the Hun was 4ft 11in yet seems to have known how to make his presence felt.

Boris Johnson's support of his minister is not surprising, nor was his statement that Patel is "getting on with delivering the people's priorities". Is she? What priorities? The hostile, racist, dare I say it, bullying treatment of refugees to the country? The deployment of Navy ships against motorised dinghies?

The social media hashtag "Be Kind" - to be found now on t shirts, mugs and other memorabilia - is frustratingly reductive and, while obviously well meaning, serves to stymie discussion. It's often used now as a passive aggressive full stop to any sort of lively disagreement, no nuance for cruelness in its performative niceness.

I wonder if #UseEmpathy might be better. You can disagree strongly using empathy. You can dissent firmly using empathy. You cannot bully using empathy.

When excuses are made for aggressive shouting and swearing in public office, when a hiatus can't be taken on disassembling a grieving mother, there is no empathy. That can't be where we are now, a nation of bullies. Meghan Markle asks in her column a simple question, 'Are we ok'? The response to her suggests we are not.