Monday, March 25, 2013

"You have to believe they were wrong! They have to be wrong!"

"The side that bullies soon forgets, but the side which is bullied will never forget."

--Sato Hideo

One of the problems with bullying is that most speak up against it, but the action to prevent it is rarely taken in the places it is most found and needs to be prevented: home and school. Home and school are where the bully learns to bully. School is where the bullied gets bullied the most and it all goes unnoticed. Most speak out against bullying, but it is still a high epidemic because nowadays it can be so anonymous. All it takes is a fake name to create a new profile on any social network so bullying can continue beyond school hours. When I was bullied, you only really experienced the bullying at school, or places where you happened to run into your bully. Today, kids are not just bullied in those places but also online and via cell phone. I was lucky not to have the internet as an added forum for the names and insults that came my way on a daily basis. However, the physical threat was there. I was a kid with big glasses and, later in junior high and high school, a less-than-masculine voice, hindered by a lisp. From the hard pushes and shoving into walls or lockers to the small pottery needle tool used for stabbing and poking me, I felt every jab, insult and joke at my expense.

In some small way, I've been bullied sporadically since 3rd grade (although it really didn't become a regular occurrence or problem until 6th grade), and I admit that because of this slight bullying, I once verbally bullied a kid in 6th grade. At my elementary school, Tayac Elementary (now Tayac Academy), the kids from "special education" -- from a special school called Tanglewood Regional -- would come from Tanglewood for half the day at our school. One day, when they came into our cafeteria to eat their lunch, I was sitting with a group of boys who began making fun of them, calling them "retards" and making sounds like "Duuuuuhhhh!" I thought if they were doing it, it was OK for me to do it too (after all, most of them were deaf, so we thought they probably wouldn't hear us). But after I did it, I could tell they noticed we were making fun of them. One of the teachers on lunch duty noticed us too and made us report to the office. I remember the principal asking all of us if we thought making fun of someone else's handicap was funny. Little solemn faces silently stared back at her as she thought of our punishment. We each got separate punishments, but we all had to do one thing. We had to report to the special education teacher and learn the sign language for "I'm sorry for making fun of you." We did and performed the language in front of the entire special needs kids we had insulted. My separate punishment was to ride the special education bus (some call it the "Short Bus") for a week. Over that time, I made a few friends in those kids, and realized -- for a kid of 10-years-old -- that, aside from the handicap, they were no different than me. I also realized that the boys I had originally sat with at lunch were not my friends nor the type of kids I wanted as friends, and I stopped sitting with them. That was the first time I ever bullied and I promised myself that I wouldn't do it ever again.

However, I did do it again.

When I was 20 going on 21, I worked at an amusement park with other young men and women, and oftentimes we would all hang out at house parties after work. There was a young woman, pretty and popular, who I didn't take seriously, and I would --what I thought of as -- playfully "give her a hard time." I didn't verbally put her down often but would laugh at her expense. I had done this before with other girls in the past (who didn't seem to mind) and I don't know exactly why I acted this way other than I would put up this wall of sarcasm to protect myself. I often did it with those who I felt would most likely reject or insult me: pretty and/or popular girls (which she was and still is; now a pretty woman and mother!). Well, at one after-work party, something happened where she did something and people laughed at her. She told people to be quiet, and when I wasn't, she asked me to be quiet or else! I said, "Ooooooooh" (as in sarcastically saying "I'm soooo scared"), and she gave me a right uppercut to my jaw. I remember it didn't physically hurt but it gave me a jolt of shock, making me realize in that very instant that even though I had probably only said three or four things to her since I first met her, I had, in a way, bullied her. I thought because she was some popular, pretty girl that she thought less of me -- even though she had given me no reason to think these things -- and so I poked fun at her. Her action gave me the mighty clarity that my little "playful" action could bring forth such strong anger in her. Most of the people around us (who had also been in the room, laughing at her) bolted up and got between us (even though I hadn't moved) to prevent any further action. She instantly started crying and asking if we could talk, and I could tell she regretted what she had just done. My first instinct was to immediately talk to her but I knew she was upset and a little drunk, so talking may not be the best option at the moment. I promised her I would talk to her another day. A couple of days later, we talked and she tearfully apologized to me and told me that even though she knew I wasn't purposely being mean to her, she still didn't like the little verbal jabs I would throw her way, and it really hurt her. I had had no clue that these very occasional taunts were hurting her or affecting her so much. I had become the thing I hated most. And I vowed to not take that action again. I apologized to her and told her that if she ever needed to talk about anything, she could come to me. She hugged me and we became better friends for it. That was the last time I ever did anything remotely close to bullying and the first time I fully realized the power of my words. I promised that I wouldn't treat others the way I did those previous two times, and never have acted that way since then.

I am lucky that I had a good home life and great parents. I never brought up any of the bullying done to me at school because I thought I could handle it and -- even though they always were willing to listen to me -- did not want to "burden" my parents with the goings-on. I moved around quite a bit from the time the bullying really picked up in 6th grade (the same grade I got my glasses) onwards and was a quiet, shy only child, so friends did not come easy nor did they line up to introduce themselves to me. From the moment I entered those school doors every day, I was alone. The big problem that I faced with bullying is still seen in today's schools. And an example was best shown in the 2011 documentary movie, Bully. Here is that clip (abridged) from the film where a kid who was bullied (Kid #1, on the left) is forced to apologize to his bully (Kid #2, on the right) by a school assistant principal. The assistant principal forces Kid #1 and Kid #2 to shake hands, thinking that will absolve the physical altercation that had just occurred; when boy #1 (who is fed up with being bullied) won't "sincerely" shake the hand of the boy (Kid #2) who was just pounding on him, the principal scolds the bullied Kid #1!
        I have been through a similar situation where, although I didn't have to shake my bully's hand, I went to tell a teacher that I was being bullied, and he told me to "Grow up and be a man." That was 8th grade. This type of situation and the one exemplified in Bully are the reason why the bullied bring guns to school as well as the reason they themselves turn to bullying. Teachers and administrators seem to think preventing bullying and enforcing the rules against it is too time-consuming for their understandably already-hectic schedule. However, as long as bullying exists, it is a part of their job to do so. Deep down, I knew high school would be a blip and that all of the assholes who ever flung an insult at my expense, called me every belittling name (including unwanted nicknames), shoved me into a locker, pushed my books out of my grasp, or stabbed me with needles and pencils would be far behind me and out of my life; the best line to think of is when Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the 2000 film Almost Famous (reference #1) asks his admirer William what the kids at William's high school think about him (William), and William says the kids hate him, to which Bangs replies, "You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle." 

When I was a freshman, I knew the bullies who would punch and kick you rather than look at you, stole drinks and food from you, physically confronted you for no reason, and called you names were as much a threat as the bullets and knives that pervaded my high school. But home was a safe haven. I'm lucky. Some kids don't even have that. Their homes are full of aggressive parents and/or siblings who don't want to hear any truth other than your day was "OK" and you were "fine," or they are physically abused by their own relatives. I moved out of that high school to a new one in a different state, where no one knew me and seemed to not want to know me. The insults, name-calling, physical threats, and shoving persisted -- from crude nicknames to being called a fag or gay to being pushed and punched in the arm, I heard and felt it all. So much hatred grew in my heart that I wished for death to those who made my every school day a horror. I never thought to kill myself, but I did wish death upon those who bullied me. And every day I told my parents I was "fine." Years later, they admit they knew I was going through a tough time. But without my opening up to my parents, what more could they do but ask how I was doing? I guess the reason I never did open up or admit to anything was because I knew financially we weren't doing so well and I didn't want to worry them by adding another stressor to the mix. Plus, with not having to conceal black eyes or bloody noses, I figured I could handle the pressure and the emotions. To a certain extent, I was able to handle it. But, in other ways, it left me with indelible emotions and attitudes that are not very constructive nor attractive -- and still are a silent, private struggle for me to deal with today. I never cried because, by that age, the bullying didn't make me sad. It made me angry. However, I was fortunate in that by the time the middle of my junior year of high school hit, I had made a small group of close friends and, after aggressively confronting my last bully, the one with the pottery needle, the bullying stopped.

Like the quote at the beginning of this article and the words directly above, being bullied, you never forget. And, sadly, it shapes you and affects you long after it has stopped. To this day, I am affected by any type of bullying -- especially when worrying about my kids. I am sensitive to my own kids any time they bring up anything that resembles bullying; luckily, they haven't. And I continue to instill in them the knowledge that everyone is different and, like it or not yourself, that's OK because God made them that way ... and He likes variety. But I also teach them that when someone treats you badly that is NOT OK. But it is OK to tell Mommy or Daddy or a grown-up at school. I make sure to not tell my girls that when a boy hits them or shoves them (shoving having only happened once), it is because he likes them. To me, that is breeding ground for them growing up, thinking a boy/man who treats them like shit secretly likes/loves them. True or not, I don't want a boy showing his affections to either of my daughters in such a way. For a time I didn't have to worry about bullying, but now that my girls are entering school, I get easily maddened and frustrated at the thought of not being able to right the wrongs of a society that treats bullying with kid gloves. This scene below from Bully shows every parent's worst nightmare. Not just the kid getting bullied, but also the school administrator admitting there is no problem when there clearly is. In this instance, she is oblivious to thinking that even though she's rode the bus and the kids are "as good as gold," the bullies were merely behaving well at the time simply because she was on the bus! It is this type of overlooking and simple-mindedness that pushes kids (and parents) over the edge from frustration to anger. This is also why bullies suddenly behave well when in front of an authority figure. The reason a bullied child does not want to tell on a bully when given the opportunity is because he or she is afraid of the retaliation the bully will inevitably return when they see him or her in school the next day or week. The only cure for this symptom is to have parent involvement on both sides and swift, harsh punishment for the bully -- i.e., not just detention, but suspension or, if it continues, expulsion.

             Unlike when I was younger, fortunately, anti-bullying has gotten more attention and zero-tolerance rules have been put in place and upheld in states nationwide -- which is good since today, with the introduction of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, texting and the internet, bullying is all the more easy to do. Sites such as The Bully Project, It Gets Better and What Do You Choose (just to name a few) are examples of Web sites where the bullied can find solace and help. Bullies will persist and most likely always exist, and it's up to the guidance counselors, educators, and parents to find out why bullies do what they do. If it is because of an issue at home, it is all the more important for counselors and educators to try and reach out to the bully and his/her parents. And let the country not simply say "what a shame it is" that this happens, when it happens, only to become complacent after the news shows have clung on to another story and moved on; but rather make effective laws and take actual steps towards preventing bullying TODAY before the bullied kid finds desperate ways to stop it the only way he/she can think of: violence. If bullying continues without any supervision or help, this is what happens:

2011: This is Austrailian 10th-grader Casey Heynes (r.), who after constant bullying, "just snapped" and stood up to 7th-grade bully Ritchard Gale.
2008: Northern Illinois University shooting victims (l. to r.): Gayle Dubowski, Ryanne Mace, Daniel Parmenter, Julianna Gehant, and Catalina Garcia.

1999: Columbine High School Massacre shooters Eric Harris (l.) & Dylan Klebold (r.) were bullied. The deceased victims: Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Dan Rohrbough, William "Dave" Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, and Lauren Townsend.

"I am not insane, I am angry. I killed because people like me are mistreated every day. I did this to show society: push us and we will push back. ... All throughout my life, I was ridiculed, always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, truly blame me for what I do? Yes, you will. ... It was not a cry for attention, it was not a cry for help. It was a scream in sheer agony saying that if you can't pry your eyes open, if I can't do it through pacifism, if I can't show you through the displaying of intelligence, then I will do it with a bullet."

-- Luke Woodham, Pearl High School shooting, 1997 
I've said it before and I will say it again. I'm not sure myself what the solution to bullying is, but it definitely involves love, understanding, empathy, and taking the time to listen -- and that goes not only for family and friends, but also for educators and administration. It starts at home by raising our children to not poke fun at those who look, sound or act different. It means taking the time to watch what your children are watching and explaining to them when something is not right (yes, I shit you not, even Disney Channel has perpetuated stereotypes which can contribute to bullying!). I'm not saying to be so sensitive as to become overprotective. But inject yourself into your child's life. It doesn't matter who you vote for in an election, what political party you are a part of, or what committees in which you are a member. It doesn't matter how much money you make or provide. It doesn't even matter that violent movies and video games exist (there will always be something!). This is not a gun issue, law issue, political issue, or media issue. This is a moral issue. We can only be rid of bullying by teaching our children to respect others, constantly teaching them right from wrong, and showing empathy ... one kid at a time. It only matters if you talk to your kids and truly listen without judgement. It only matters if you show compassion and patience to them and others around you. And to those who are being bullied or have been, hang in there. As cheesy and cliché as it sounds, it does get better. Find something (legal) that, as my favorite writer Joseph Campbell would say, helps you to "follow your bliss" -- mine is writing (like rock music critic Lester Bangs was portrayed as saying in the movie Almost Famous (reference #2): "I love to write ... just to f#@*&^g write, ya know?"). Don't let your anger and hate overcome you and rule your life. Anger and hate are an easy road to take, but I promise the more difficult route of taking the high road and ignoring those daily words that sound like they're screaming in your face will pay off in the long run. Even if you do understandably have anger and hate in your heart, try to eventually let it go. I speak from experience when I say that I still have negative, angry thoughts sometimes and it is a constant struggle to contemplate over them and better myself. But if I can do it -- and it is worth doing -- you can too. Being bullied can fill you with contempt and anger, but it can also fill you with courage, understanding, patience, empathy, inner strength, and cheering for the underdog, which promotes sympathy and empathy. Take your pick which you would rather be. I remember the pain of always being picked last in gym class (except when it was time for running and track activities, at which I excelled). One summer when I worked at the previously mentioned amusement park, we had an employee softball game, and because I was a supervisor, I was the captain of one team. The other captain and I were asked to pick our teammates -- just like they do in elementary school, junior high and high school. I intentionally picked the people who were the least athletic and least likely to be picked. And I can happily say ... we lost SO bad! BUT ... I had never had so much fun playing sports and I could tell my teammates felt the same. Just remember that you don't have to forgive the bully for his or her sake, but rather for the experience itself with which you had to go through. Mahatma Gandhi has falsely been quoted as saying, "Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It's a nice saying, but I think Gandhi's actual quote is better: "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do." I end this post by including one of the most inspiring videos on bullying I have ever seen. It is by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan who is the same age as me and was subjected to bullying himself. Here is his story (followed by the words to his powerful piece "To This Day"), with which I completely relate:

To This Day 

"I used to think that pork chops and karate chops were the same thing I thought they were both pork chops and because my grandmother thought it was cute and because they were my favorite she let me keep doing it 

Not really a big deal  

One day before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees I fell out of a tree and bruised the right side of my body

I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it because I was afraid I’d get in trouble for playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been 

A few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise and I got sent to the principal’s office from there I was sent to another small room with a really nice lady who asked me all kinds of questions about my life at home 

I saw no reason to lie as far as I was concerned life was pretty good I told her “whenever I’m sad my grandmother gives me karate chops” 

This led to a full scale investigation and I was removed from the house for three days until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises 

News of this silly little story quickly spread through the school and I earned my first nickname: 

"Pork Chop" 

To this day I hate pork chops 

I’m not the only kid who grew up this way surrounded by people who used to say that rhyme about sticks and stones as if broken bones hurt more than the names we got called and we got called them all 

so we grew up believing no one would ever fall in love with us that we’d be lonely forever that we’d never meet someone to make us feel like the sun was something they built for us in their tool shed so broken heart strings bled the blues as we tried to empty ourselves 

so we would feel nothing don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone that an ingrown life is something surgeons can cut away that there’s no way for it to metastasize 

It does  

She was eight years old our first day of grade three when she got called ugly we both got moved to the back of the class so we would stop get bombarded by spit balls but the school halls were a battleground where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day 

we used to stay inside for recess because outside was worse outside we’d have to rehearse running away or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there in grade five they taped a sign to the front of her desk that read "beware of dog" 

To this day despite a loving husband she doesn’t think she’s beautiful because of a birthmark that takes up a little less than half of her face kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer that someone tried to erase but couldn’t quite get the job done and they’ll never understand that she’s raising two kids whose definition of beauty begins with the word "mom" 

because they see her heart before they see her skin that she’s only ever always been amazing 

He was a broken branch grafted onto a different family tree adopted but not because his parents opted for a different destiny he was three when he became a mixed drink of one part left alone and two parts tragedy 

started therapy in 8th grade had a personality made up of tests and pills lived like the uphills were mountains and the downhills were cliffs four fifths suicidal a tidal wave of anti depressants and an adolescence of being called popper one part because of the pills and ninety nine parts because of the cruelty he tried to kill himself in grade ten when a kid who still had his mom and dad had the audacity to tell him “get over it” as if depression is something that can be remedied by any of the contents found in a first aid kit 

To this day he is a stick of TNT lit from both ends could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends in the moments before it’s about to fall and despite an army of friends who all call him an inspiration he remains a conversation piece between people who can’t understand sometimes becoming drug free has less to do with addiction and more to do with sanity 

We weren’t the only kids who grew up this way to this day kids are still being called names the classics were "hey stupid" 
 "hey spaz" 

seems like each school has an arsenal of names getting updated every year and if a kid breaks in a school and no one around chooses to hear do they make a sound? 

are they just the background noise of a soundtrack stuck on repeat when people say things like "kids can be cruel"? 

every school was a big top circus tent and the pecking order went from acrobats to lion tamers from clowns to carnies all of these were miles ahead of who we were we were freaks 

lobster claw boys and bearded ladies oddities juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire, spin the bottle trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal but at night while the others slept we kept walking the tightrope it was practice and yeah some of us fell 

But I want to tell them that all of this is just debris leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought we used to be and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself get a better mirror look a little closer stare a little longer 

because there’s something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit you built a cast around your broken heart and signed it yourself you signed it “they were wrong” because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a clique maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth to show and tell but never told because how can you hold your ground if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it  

you have to believe that they were wrong! They have to be wrong  

Why else would we still be here?  

we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them 

we stem from a root planted in the belief that we are not what we were called; we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway and if in some way we are don’t worry we only got out to walk and get gas  

we are graduating members from the class of "We Made It" 

not the faded echoes of voices crying out "names will never hurt me" 

Of course they did 

But our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty." 

-- Shane Koyczan 

Post Script: I never watch any of the reality competition shows, but this clip of Jillian Jensen is just too great and emotional for words!

  "Who You Are" (originally sung by Jessie J

"I stare at my reflection in the mirror:
'Why am I doing this to myself?' 
Losing my mind on a tiny error, 
I nearly left the real me on the shelf. 
No, no, no, no, no... 
Don't lose who you are in the blur of the stars! 
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing, It's okay not to be okay. 
Sometimes it's hard to follow your heart. 
Tears don't mean you're losing, everybody's bruising, 
Just be true to who you are! 
Don't lose who you are in the blur of the stars! 
Seeing is deceiving, dreaming is believing, 
It's okay not to be okay... 
Sometimes it's hard to follow your heart. 
Tears don't mean you're losing, everybody's bruising, 
Just be true to who you are!" 

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