A good friend of mine says that going back to his high school reunion was very therapeutic, but I never needed to do that to move past the pain of adolescence. When my 10-year reunion was held, I simply contributed – along with many others not attending – a written update that was published for classmates to read. There have since been two other reunions that I’ve chosen to not attend because I don’t need to walk those halls again. I’m sure many of the bullies have grown up and would never consider saying the kinds of things to me today that were said back then, but is that true for everyone?
I think social networks like Facebook are an interesting way to gauge whether people have changed. There are several supportive friends of mine from high school that have reconnected with me – something that is therapeutic. But a few people I friended (at their request) decided to unfriend me shortly thereafter – I’m sure because of what I do for a living today. One person in particular, a football player who used to pick on me, has attempted several times to friend me in recent years. After checking out his homepage and seeing that he was married and still living in our hometown, I’ve thought better of it. Can I be sure he would not say the same kinds of things to me today? Unless the behavior is recognized (usually by becoming the victim of something similar), the need to bully can continue throughout one’s life, taking on the form of discrimination in the workplace, “religious freedom,” or free speech.
So what constitutes bullying? Ironically, the archaic meaning of the word “bully” was actually “sweetheart” or a “fine chap” – far from the current definition of someone who is habitually cruel to someone considered to be less powerful. According to behavior experts, there are three kinds of bullying, just as there are three kinds of abuse: verbal, emotional and physical. An abusive spouse is a bully. A boss who abuses his power over you is a bully. Bullying can occur between countries, races, or religious groups. Any form of rankism can be considered bullying and it can even prompt people to migrate to another country.
So how do we stop it? By recognizing our own power over it. But that’s not always a simple a thing to do when you are twelve years old. And, just as the bullies may carry the behavior into adulthood, so can the victim by never believing in his self-worth. Victims of bullying need help, especially at this young age. It seems that one of the most effective remedies is to encourage peers to step up.
“When other kids that were bystanders intervened on behalf of the victim, the victim was less likely to experience anxiety or depression,” said Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence. Intervening, however, is also risky, and so bystanders have to be taught how to do it safely, without engaging in similar behavior themselves. That’s why the Trevor Project, It Gets Better, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and other groups are taking an important stand.
At the time of this writing, over 1.5 million people have decided to wear purple today in memory of the recent teen suicides prompted by bullying (and that’s just on Facebook alone). Today I won’t be laughed at for wearing the color, as I was in high school once. And if I am, I’ll wince for only a moment and then laugh myself. I don’t know, maybe I will accept the former bully’s friend request. I do hope he knows what’s happening today and is looking back on what he may have learned.
The Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus is currently pursuing opportunities for education and outreach on this issue. Look for concert programming to address this topic in the near future and for ways in which we are connecting with schools and youth organizations to help stop this deadly behavior.
Do your part today by wearing purple, but don’t stop at midnight. Every day, kids are being bullied and if we don’t stop it now, the world will only become a less fortunate place to live – for all of us.