An open letter to EVERYONE after Pink Shirt Day 2017

February 24, 2017 - 1:35pm

Dear literally EVERYONE,

Bullying. I've seen it from all angles.

It's important to remember, in the days after Pink Shirt Day, that bullying doesn't and likely won't ever stop just because we had a day to 'raise awareness.'

Trust me, I firmly believe the day has value, but in a sense, it's like Remembrance Day and Bell Let's Talk Day in that as soon as those 24 hours have elapsed, we go back to our everyday lives and don't talk about the particular topic very much until another year has come and gone.

I was not the cool kid in elementary school. I had friends, but I was bullied at times. Maybe it was because I was such an introvert (which isn't inherently a bad thing and there were good reasons I was one), but the reason doesn't actually matter. I didn't deserve to be bullied. No one does. The year escapes me, but I was even physically bullied by a girl at one point...in elementary school. 

It was time for high school and unfortunately, this introvert had to hit the reset button on the friend game because my family was moving to another part of the city and that meant a brand new school with 100 per cent new people. So there I am in Grade 8 and again, I'd made a certain circle of friends, but I sure as heck am not in the cool crowd. Far from it actually.

The bullying spanned all five years of high school. I was punched, pantsed, spat on, and on top of that made fun of for various reasons, namely because of my passion for environmental causes, which included heading my school's first Earth Club. Really cool right? To me, it was. Oh, and in Grade 8, I volunteered in the school's library. Listen to me kids, volunteering IS cool.

Anyhow, I carried on, but through the adolescent months and years of high school, something eventually happened which I'll always regret: I became the bully.

As early as Grade 8 actually, my first year of high school, I said some pretty mean things to this one girl. Thinking back, I can't even believe the words came out of my mouth considering how shy I was towards girls. Sure, I was egged on by one of my peers, but I still did it, therefore I have to take responsiblity. I did it for a couple reasons, first because it meant I would gain a friend in the guy who wanted me to do it, but also because I was fed up with being picked on. Effectively, I lashed out.

The bullying I laid out was pretty much restricted to name-calling, not that that makes it any better, but somehow it made me feel better at the time.

Now a decade removed from high school graduation, I've seen bullying from probably the most important angle: the intervener.

Through being a summer camp counsellor and a minor hockey coach, I've seen my old self in the kids I've mentored, and the flashbacks I've had always reminded me how regretful it is to have been on either side of the equation.

Funny enough, I now have a toddler of my own, and while there are many virtues I would love to instill in her, being kind to others is near or right at the top of the list. It may have brought me some satisfaction to lash out at others after being treated like garbage for several years, but now, I wish I could take those words back and say I had a healthy friendship with those people I chided.

Bullying of course doesn't just happen amongst our youth. It's in the workplace, it's in relationships, it's on social media (boy, is it on social media), and it can come in so many different forms. Effectively, any type of harrassment could be called bullying.

If you are a bully, I can guarantee you're eventually going to wish you hadn't been, and that should be enough reason to stop.

If you are a victim of bullying, here's one thing I learned despite ironically being bullied about it: it's okay to tell an adult. In my books, there's no such thing as ratting out, tattle-taling or being a fink. If you don't speak up now and find the required intervener, the bullying you endure may not be escapable later on. I'm talking mental health problems like depression, which is simply not fun. Stand up for yourself by standing up for your health.

If you are an intervener, I believe you have an obligation to help resolve the situation in some way, shape or form, whether that's letting someone of more authority know, or breaking up an altercation. In my opinion, each side deserves some benefit of the doubt to explain what's happened.

Finally, if you are a bystander, it's as simple as standing up for what you know is right, and it's a fact that we all have a conscience. Don't let someone suffer in silence when you know they shouldn't have to.

Peace and love,

Josh

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