Bullying is older than mankind. It’s been around since the first animal was forced to leave the pack, pushed away from home and family in what has become a seemingly natural animalistic practice. This instinct, so ingrained in the world of animals, has become part and parcel of the human world. The difference is that as time has moved forward, many of us have come to no longer accept bullying as an okay part of our daily lives. What follows is a look at bullying and how the system has let down friends of our family.
Unfortunately, there are just as many who refuse to drop this unattractive behaviour from their psyche, and just as unfortunately, the victims of bullying are further victimized by those who are supposed to protect them. They are put in the unsavoury position of being taunted and threatened by the bullies when, as victims, they are let down by school administrations and law enforcement officers who give in to the status quo statements of supposed incident witnesses who turn out to be nothing more than cohorts of the perpetrators or those who are afraid to stand up for the victims, afraid of becoming victims themselves.
Bullying has been in the news a lot this year, as victim after victim has chosen to escape the only way they thought was an option for them – suicide. After each incident there is the expected public outcry of injustice, but in the big picture, beyond the reiteration by the vocal few that bullying needs to go the way of the dinosaur, there are still victims who every day loathe having to go to work, school or even outside of their own room, because they will have to face their nemesis – the bully – and every day, in many way, society lets them down.
I’ve come to note that many of the children and adults who are the victims of bullies fall into distinct categories. They may be among those who have a visible weakness such as a birth defect, and/or they may be gifted in one of the areas I noted earlier – academics, the arts or some sports. They may also be among our lesbian, bi-sexual, gay or transgendered (LBGT) members of society, or members of an ethic visible minority. Whoever and whatever they are, they have a right to live in a safe and nurturing society, as do we all.
In no way do I want to belittle or diminish the pain and loss the family members and friends of these young people must feel every day. Even with the support of movements such as the pink shirt campaign or the popularity of sites like Bullying Canada and the government’s own bullying prevention page, change is moving along at a snail’s pace as more and more victims fall between the cracks.
The entertainment world has taken a stand against bullying and hate – the NoH8 campaign features many celebrities from around the world who are lending their fame and status to drive home this message. Some of the globe’s largest corporations and their employees have also joined the movement with the It Gets Better campaign. This campaign, while originally directed more towards our LBGT Youth, experienced an easy transition into encompassing any form of bullying.
The majority of us can easily recognize the actions of a bully – that person who taunts others he or she perceives as weak or different from themselves in a way they find undesirable. Sometimes the target victim suffers from a visible difference such as a medical condition. Sometimes the target shows up on the bully’s radar because the said bully is jealous of the victim’s intelligence or talents (at least that’s what we were taught when I was in school.) The bully always seems to be able to attract a ring of supporters – those who feel the need to feed on the bully vibes in order to make themselves feel better about their own inadequacies – even when they know such behaviour is wrong. The bully becomes the leader of the pack, and in turn feeds on the admiration of the pack mentality to justify his or her actions against the victims, effectively forming a circle of abuse that others are afraid to break.
Bullies are well documented in our mainstream media – who doesn’t remember Marty McFly being the target of Biff in the Back To The Future movies. A point subtly made by the movie is that parents are responsible for teaching their children how to act within society, and it took Marty going back in time to see the root of why his father was, in the 1980’s, still falling victim to the bullying of Biff years after they had left high school. This is but one example of the many viewers can see on television or at the movies. Dealing with bullies is often a central plot pivot in many a modern tale – and often they are soundly defeated – at least in fiction. Why are these triumphs not being echoed in society?
Is it because society is teaching our children that they inhabit a world with few or no consequences for wayward behaviour? While many schools in Canada support the anti-bullying movement, those same schools have removed competition from their sports programmes – every participant in Sports Day gets a ribbon, regardless of if they finished first, second or last. It’s okay to miss due dates on assignments, the concept of failure has almost disappeared from report cards. Yes, teachers are working hard to ensure that assignments are done – at some point in time – during the course terms, but with the power of meting out consequences for late work and poorly done work all but removed from the schools, our children are being taught that it’s okay to be a slacker.
Some sports leagues have even removed the practice of keeping score in games, taking away the concept of winning and losing. In reality, this is not teaching our children to work hard and strive to be their best, and as a parent I have to ask why. It is already apparent with young graduates seeking employment or even among those attending post-secondary schools that we are faced with a generation who feels that individual achievement may not be a necessary part of who they are. These young people expect easy tasks that do not have to be completed on deadline and high wages just for showing up – in short, they expect the world and all of its rewards to be handed to them without effort.
Granted there are still those who believe in academic, creative and athletic achievement, but those in the first two categories often become the victims of those who choose to not use the powers of their minds and instead resort to taunts and even violence to discourage those who stand out for their abilities. Athletes, especially football players, are often painted in mainstream media as being the bullies, but the reality is that this is not always the case. It’s more often those who, for whatever reason, chose to not excel through academia or creativity who become the bullies. Perhaps they themselves suffer from some lack of talent and thus feel the need to fall back on intimidation tactics in order to become noticed by their peers.
There are many instances of former bully victims becoming the bully in later years – they saw this as their way of standing up to the bullies and in some cases even winning the bully’s approval – or further ire for encroaching on their territory. Thankfully, some of these young people convert back to being the upstanding citizens they had started out as, but often not until a tragedy has taken place.
By now you are probably wondering why I have taken a step away from the content you are used to seeing on Village Gamer and taken on the bully issue, especially as standing up to bullies is certainly not a new movement – it’s been around for decades, and I have yet to introduce you to our friends.
What we are seeing in this modern age, though, are new ways to raise awareness about bullying and the fact that being a bully is not okay. It doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a parent, a co-worker, a boss, teacher or any other person in a position of perceived power – being a bully is not okay. Being the victim of a bully is not okay.
Two Vancouver game development studios have produced game titles that are meant to raise awareness of how we treat our fellow citizens. Unfortunately Rockstar Vancouver’s games, Bully (2006) and the 2008 re-release as Bully Scholarship, developed in conjunction with Rockstar Toronto and Rockstar New England, was deemed by many to promote the act of bullying (even before the game was publicly available), which is the opposite of what the creators had hoped to achieve. While the game is targeted more towards the male gamers of the world and available on a variety of platforms, girls are certainly not excluded from the lessons Bully Scholarship has to offer – that actions have consequences.
In another title which is directed more towards girls, Silicon Sisters Interactive released its debut mobile title School 26 earlier this year. School 26 is another game which teaches that actions (and inaction) have consequences – and that it is important to get to know the people we interact with every day. It is the hope of School 26’s creators that those who play the game will have a better understanding of empathy both for ourselves and others, and that judging people as unworthy simply because of the way they appear or act is not okay.
Both of these game titles are at the very least worth playing and talking about, and can serve as a catalyst to discussing events that may be going on in your child’s daily life. Bully Scholarship is rated as T for Teen in Canada, School 26 and its second chapter Summer of Secrets, are also rated Teen.
We all experience episodes of judging our fellow humans almost on a daily basis, and the proliferation of the internet and social media makes it even easier for bullies to target their prey while garnering followers who are only too quick to fall into the bully’s camp in some misguided sense of belonging.
In Canada, radio talk show host Roy Green has become an outspoken opponent to bullying. Two weeks ago he interviewed friends of ours, discussing the crisis their family is experiencing due to the actions of bullies. The son in this family has been the target of bullies at school for a number of years, and last year the father was charged with assault. Not because he sought out the bullies and laid a beating on them. Not because he went on the school grounds or the bully’s parents’ property to seek justice for his son. No, not at all.
Our friend – we call him Walter to protect his family’s identity – simply reacted to a situation in the way that any of us would have done. The bully and his entourage had followed Walter’s son “Alex” home from school. They followed Alex onto the family’s private property and proceeded to accost him physically, pushing Alex around and such. Walter came out of the family home – not because he was aware of anything happening on the front lawn, but because he was on his way to work. He pushed the bully off of his son. He eventually got the bully and his friends off of their property, and despite the taunts and threats, did not chase them down the street and lay a beating on them. The next day, he found himself under investigation for assault.
As I said above, this was not a “one-off” incident. The bullying by students at Alex’s school was well-documented. Alex’s parents had had several meetings with the school’s administration, the students and even the RCMP school liaison officer, especially after the appearance of a derogatory page on Facebook. There have been no repercussions against the bully or his group for this incident. Instead, they see themselves in a position of power – taunting Alex at school, taunting the family out in public – a family who has been left powerless to fight back, thanks to the outstanding charges of assault that have been levied against Walter.
On our last visit with the family a few days ago, I saw in Alex a creatively talented young man who is filled with a lethal combination of guilt and rage. I see in him the same things I saw in my own son not so many years ago when he fell victim to bullies at school not once or twice, but repeatedly. I saw a young boy who went from loving school to having to be almost dragged there every day. I saw a happy young boy become sullen, writing messages of self-hate in his notebooks.
In fact, in asking Michael if it was okay for me to mention his past experiences in this editorial, he reminded me of the day when he’d finally had enough and punched the bully in the nose. An action that got him a three week lunch-time suspension, meaning he had to come home for the lunch hour for three weeks. While the bullying did subside for a time, the peace did not last.
To the school’s credit, the counselor did intervene and assist us with both in-school and after-school counseling, which was great for Michael, but did nothing to deal with the bully’s continuing bad behaviour. Nor did it prepare him for the fact that he would be once again facing bullies and wanna-be gangsters in high school, and this time the school system did let him down. Michael finally gave up, he found it easier to just not go to school, eventually dropping out because having to deal with daily pressure from other teens to get involved in the local drug trade. Anyone who knows Michael knows that he has no use for drugs, gangsters or bullies.
I have been blessed in that both of my children have the ability to feel compassion and often take up the fight for the underdog – especially when it comes to helping other young people, whether it’s a bully issue or simply leaving an unwrapped gift for an under-privileged child under the tree in the mall – and my daughter Amy has read a book that she hopes each of you will read and recommend to others. The book, targeted at young adult readers, is called Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay De Asher*.
Going back to Walter and Alex, and as I mentioned earlier, I saw a young man who has a gift for music and a passion for video-crafting being torn apart from the inside out as he struggles to deal not only with the normal challenges of being a teen, he has to deal with the burden of being a bully victim. While he may not voice it, it is easily apparent that Alex feels that everything that has happened to his family over the past few years is his fault, and that is a very heavy burden for a young man to carry on his shoulders. As with so many bullying victims, Alex has internalized so much of what has happened to him, occasionally exploding in brief bouts of anger and sadness, taking on an emotional responsibility that should rest squarely on the bully and the system that has let this family down.
Since being charged with assault, Walter, his wife and Alex, are facing near financial ruin. Walter’s wife has had to take a leave of absence from work due to health issues, some of which have been exasperated by the bullying issues, and the family is now trying to make ends meet on Walter’s earnings. After having to leave a long-term full-time career to help Alex, who has gone through one round of counseling and has had to endure “instances” at school every day, Walter has only been able to find part-time work, and now with the mounting legal fees the family faces in fighting this assault case, they have had to put their home up for sale as they teeter on the edge of foreclosure.
After Walter’s interview on the Roy Green Show, many listeners emailed Roy, wanting to help ease the family’s financial crisis by assisting with the legal expenses. (Note July 2013 – the TD Account mentioned here is no longer operational.) To further assist Walter and his family, Scott and I have launched Walter’s Defense Fund, which is both a web site with further information, and a trust fund account held at TD Canada Trust. The Defense Fund is not a registered charitable organization, and we cannot issue tax donation receipts, but we hope that there will be those among you who will feel compelled to help Walter stand up to the bullies and defeat these charges in court. We hope that you will feel compelled to help them remain in their family home – even though we’d like to see them move to our side of the river. If you do wish to give to Walter’s Defense Fund (thank you), donations can be made at any branch of TD Canada Trust, and we also have a PayPal account enabled – please contact us via news-at-villagegamer-dot-net for the PayPal account information.
* More about Thirteen Reasons Why:
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.
There is a series of videos on YouTube based on Hannah’s cassette tape diary – they could be considered spoilers, so consider yourself “warned”.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this YouTube video from ShoeBoxTV.