Because of you…you said I was ugly. You made me ashamed to be myself. You forced me to change.
Quotes like these make up a large part of the new Lines of Love video created for Centennial’s Anti-Bullying Week in March. Coupled with tear-jerking testimonials from teachers, its effect is very powerful. “It was touching,” said Sarah*, a student at Centennial. “It definitely got me a little emotional – basically brought tears to my eyes. [When it ended, I felt] like a new person. I wanted to help those who were being bullied.”
Curious about this last remark, I asked Sarah how long it was after the video’s end that she engaged in cruel behavior with a friend. She became very defensive, very quickly.
“What? I never bully! Why is that question in here?” she exclaimed. After a few more minutes of ranting, she paused. “Well…I guess I said something mean to my friend.” She blinked. “But it wasn’t bullying. Say it wasn’t bullying.”
As shocking as it may seem when highlighted in someone else, this attitude is typical among people. Who hasn’t gossiped about a frenemy, turned cold eyes on someone who tried to sit at your lunch table, or hastily followed a mean remark with, “Just kidding?” That’s right – squirm in your seat. You told yourself it was okay, because it wasn’t real bullying, right? You can talk about people all you want as long as you don’t tell them, because what they don’t know can’t hurt them?
Because of you…I hated everything about myself. I stopped doing the things I loved.
By now you’re shaking your head. No, that’s not me. I’m a good person. Don’t beat yourself up – it’s human nature. Just as we have all been victims at some point, we have all been perpetrators. However, there is one thing for which you only have yourself to blame – falling into the trap of labeling the good guy and the bad guy. Although there are years of psychological experiments and basic observations that prove it impossible to be purely good or purely bad, it is easy to forget this. That is because the good/bad mentality is easy and therefore appealing. It clearly divides the world into right and wrong. Nice and mean. Innocent and guilty.
And here is where we run into the problem. If you classify yourself as a “good person” who sometimes does “bad things,” then you don’t think of yourself as a bully- just an honest person who made an honest mistake. With that thought process, you’ll never be motivated to change your behavior, because you’ll never see a need to do so.
If you need an example, look no further than Alliance High School. This public school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was founded as a separate place for bullying victims. Talk about a school full of “good people” – in a place where everybody knows how it feels to be harassed, wouldn’t they all think before they acted? According to founder and lead teacher Tina Owen, not necessarily. She confessed in the October 13, 2011 issue of TIME magazine that one Alliance student went so far as to create a Facebook page about how much they hated another student. Human nature strikes again.
Because of you…I gave up. You hurt the people I love. Why do you hate me?
So is there hope?
Well, yes and no. As hard as it is to say this, bullying will never go away. There are ways to change for the better, though. The first and most important step is to acknowledge that you are wrong sometimes, that you will never be perfectly innocent and good, but that you can control your actions and take responsibility for them. The next step is to bridge the gap created in your mind between Us and Them, and recognize that you are no worse than anyone else around you. Update your definition of “friend” to “somebody who has never hurt me,” and you’ll find the world a much friendlier community. Assume that everybody else operates by this definition too, and try to be a friend to them. Things will be better in this school, because of you.