Monday, March 18, 2013

Are We Losing the War Against Bullying?

I'm working on my column for this week and I'm trying to write a short, cohesive piece about bullying. 
I don't know if that's possible. What a multi-faceted, complicated subject -- except for the "bullying is wrong, stop it now, what is wrong with you people?" angle. 
Perhaps I should just go with that. 
Over the weekend, as I was mulling various angles for the column over in my head, I remembered the three times I was sort-of bullied.  I use "sort-of" because they were not really bullying; just growing up bullshit. While the first two, from when I was a pre-teen, have made it into my column, the third incident exists on a totally different level. From today's perspective, it scares the crap out of me.
Back in 1988, I lived in a town of 15,000 people in Ontario; the high school had a student population of 500. On the last day of high school, when I was 18, I drove my mom's car back to school after lunch. That meant parking in the student parking lot and walking into the school through the King Street doors. In the days when you could still smoke on school property, that's where the smokers hung out, along with the kids that we referred to as "skids". This tended to be, but wasn't exclusively, the crowd that wasn't all that keen on school.
It was my last day of high school ever, so I was wearing a spring dress and anticipating the annual awards assembly that afternoon as I passed through the crowd quickly, holding my breath and not looking at anyone.
I heard a girl say, "If I had a gun..."
I knew what she meant. Back then, it didn't scare me. I didn't freak out and report it to the principal (now I only have the vague recollection that I knew at the time who spoke) nor did I tell my parents. If it hadn't been the last day of school, I simply would have avoided using the doors in the future. 
But today. 
If I heard that today, in our culture of violence and bullying, of Facebook and cyberbullying, I'd be terrified. These days, you just can't disregard a comment like that. Now you just never know. Regardless of what the experts consider the randomness of the shooting at the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado or at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gun violence is on the rise and one simple comment like "If I had a gun..." can easily escalate if the wrong person overhears those words. 
I don't have an answer, not even a theory. I just know that there has always been bullying and there will always be bullying but these days, it seems so much worse thanks to Facebook and Twitter, web cams and Instagram. Half a dozen kids gathered around a set of double doors versus 1,000 so-called Facebook friends and followers...Who's gonna lose in that battle? 

Feel free to help me find an answer, hone a theory. Thoughtful comments always welcome.

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