An Age of Normalizing Bullying
Brian Campbell

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I recently saw a news story about a nine year old Syrian girl who was bullied at school to the point where she committed suicide. That was bad enough, but then came the real kicker. This didn’t happen in some third world country, nor even in the United States, but in Calgary, Alberta, right here in Canada. When did Canada get to the point where nine year old children are being, quite literally, bullied to death? When did this become okay?

I am quite aware that bullying isn’t a new thing. I, personally, was bullied in school. Maybe that is why I have a very low tolerance for it. I know what it is like to be teased, named-called, insulted, beaten up. I know what it is like to be made to feel that you are worthless. My parents moved to a small town in the Manitoba Interlake, where I was one of few kids who hadn’t grown up in the community. I know what it feels like to be different, and to have that difference make you feel unwanted. It is a feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I am even aware that it is no new thing for adults to overlook and minimize the seriousness of bullying.  I remember once getting beaten up behind the school by two other students. Shortly after they left, the principal showed up, looked me up and down, and asked what happened. After I told him, he simply said, “You should learn to defend yourself,” then turned and walked away. Over the next few weeks, I managed to track and confront each boy individually. After each confrontation, the boy and I ended up in the principal’s office. I don’t think the principal even recognized the irony when he gave us the strap.

For those of the younger generation who may not have heard of it, “the strap” is a piece of leather about a foot (30 cm) long and two inches (5 cm) wide, that teacher would slap across an offending student’s hands in order to maintain discipline. As opposed to what some people claim, I never felt traumatized by the experience, except for the time I got it in the third grade for working too slow. Yes, teachers can be bullies too. I also don’t ever remember learning anything from it, other than that teachers can, on occasion, be hypocrites.

But even though bullying has been around for a very long time, in the last few years it has gotten much worse. There are several things I blame for that. Number one is social media, which makes it easy for people who wouldn’t normally say nasty things out loud, even if they felt like saying them, to fire negative, insulting, belittling, and even racist remarks, semi-anonymously, from the comfort of their own home, at people they haven’t even met. By semi-anonymously I mean that, even though they are using their own name and picture, they don’t have to personally confront the target of their wrath. This can be taken a step further with a completely fake identity, freeing an internet bully from any form of consequence. Social media allows bullies, stalkers, and other vermin the chance to track their targets right into their homes and private lives, and to continue harassing them, without revealing who they are. Let’s face it, social media makes it far too easy to be mean.

Because it is so easy to hide your identity, and so hard to find out who is behind the internet mask, the police use it as an excuse not to do their jobs. No, you say, there is a special department dedicated to hunting down these cyber bullies. Right? Wrong! My granddaughter was the victim of a cyber bully who continued to track and harass her through a number of online identities. Both my daughter and granddaughter had a pretty good idea who it was, so they reported the person to the police, armed with an extensive list of online messages, including IP addresses. So what did the Winnipeg Police Department do? They advised my daughter that maybe my granddaughter should discontinue using social media.

WHAT THE FU-… Wait. Hold on a second. Okay, calm down Brian. Take a deep breath. Relax.

Sorry about that. As I was saying, what kind of response is that? To me, that sounds like blaming and punishing the victim. What kind of message does this send?

Of course it doesn’t help that this is the kind of behaviour you see modeled on television and even by our politicians and public figures. At this point it would be easy to blame US President Donald Trump, and to some extent I do, because he certainly does exhibit the behaviour of a cliché bully. But Trump is more a symptom of the problem than the actual problem itself. The people of the United States voted him in and he still has a lot of supporters. Yes, I am aware that many people in the US don’t support him, but many do, and he has supporters here in Canada as well. Sad, but true.

I remember a time when I could have a disagreement with someone, and we could remain friends. Now, if you disagree, particularly, but not necessarily, about politics, the disagreement very quickly becomes very personal and very nasty. The discussion is often peppered with terms like Snowflake, Libtard and Sheeple. That is not to say that the only offenders are the Alt Right. The Alt Left can be equally nasty and vulgar, they just aren’t as creative when it comes to catch words and usually confine themselves to those of the four letter variety. Suggestions that you may not be mentally stable or might be abusing illicit chemicals are often used on both sides of the argument. The modern stance is, “If you don’t agree with me, you are an idiot.”

So where does this come from? It has been noted that bullying behaviour often comes from an anger or fear buried deep inside a person’s psyche. So how did so many people get this angry and/or afraid? What are they afraid of? Immigrants? Seriously? Let’s face it, and this goes for both Canada and the US, our country was built on immigration. If you are not First Nations, you are a child/grandchild/great grandchild of an immigrant, very likely a refugee, because our country has been taking in refugees since Columbus first landed in the Caribbean. Statistics have shown that refugees are generally responsible for less crime than people born here. So get over it.

Why are we so afraid of someone who is different from us? That was the problem that caused me to be bullied more than fifty years ago. I was different. I didn’t belong.  The same problem exists today. Why is difference so scary? Why can’t we embrace our differences and learn from each other? We have so much we can teach each other if we could just get past the fear.

But until that day, we each need to be responsible for our own actions. Children aren’t born hating, this is a learned behaviour. They learn it and copy it from those they see and respect. So what behaviours are we modeling to the children who are watching and learning from us? Think it about it. Who is learning from you, and what are you teaching them?

It’s up to us to change the future. How do you present yourself to the world and those to whom your influence matters? What are you doing today to stop tomorrow’s hatred? I wrote this article? What will you do?