Anti-bullyng messages

When I was a high school student, I was exposed to various types of bullying — not as the recipient, but as an observer. The bullying could be verbal, physical or social. In the later case, bullies would gang up on someone to make them feel inadequate in some manner. In my heart, I knew what was going on around me was cruel and hurtful to the victim.  Many of the bullying victims were reduced to tears.

I’d be glad to report that I did something about the bullying, and I can remember my feeling of disgust occasionally made me react to protect the victim in some small way, but not all the time. For remaining a bystander and looking the other way, as so many others did, I knew I had given the impression of condoning what was occurring, giving the bullies impetus to continue their attack against their helpless victim.

At the recent 33rd Volunteer Awards, held at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, which celebrates the volunteer services provided by thousands of individuals, organizations and businesses in Manitoba, Michael Barrett, the president of the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA), related a story that mirrored my long ago experience with bullying.

Barrett attended the ceremony to present the association’s annual Quality of Life Award, which recognizes individuals and groups dedicated to improving the lives of Manitoba children and youth.

Before the MREA president presented the award to two “wonderful” recipients, he told the hundreds gathered at the convention centre about “a brief personal story.”

“When I read this year’s recipients’ bios and applications, I was reminded of my 16-year-old son’s drama class performance this past winter. Drew’s drama teacher introduced it as not a piece she would have selected. The students chose the work. They insisted they wanted to do it because it was relevant to them.”

The drama students presented the play entitled, I Don’t Want to Talk About It. The play provided the message that being a teenager is hard and nobody wants to talk about it.

Barrett explained that through a series of monologues and scenes, the play deals with the effects of rumours, bullying and suicide. He said the play was: “By turns funny and tragic, the gritty details of adolescence surface, exposing the things teenages can’t, won’t and don’t want to talk about.”

Barrett said he had an “ah-ha” moment when watching the play and that was that people in every demographic can face similar issues at some point in their lives. “They are real issues. Issues that people in our own communities, even under our own roofs are experiencing.”

For me, it was a time of reflection, as it must have been for the audience, who either looked away or experienced acts of bullying. The remembrance would have been of being sorrowful for not intervening. For victims in the audience, it would have involved the resurrection of the pain such actions caused.

Fortunately, greater awareness has made bullying socially unacceptable to the majority of Canadians. It still occurs, but many are attuned to the cruelty it inflicts and have resolved themselves to doing something about bullying.

Such is the case with Tara Green and Duncan Cox, who jointly received the MREA Quality of Life Award, splitting the $2,500 prize to be awarded to the charity of their choice.

Barret called Cox and Green two local “heroes,” who belong to the group, Hateless Canada, and were themselves victims of bullying.

Hateless was established in 2013 by Sangeetha Nair and Winnipeg-based R&B singer Flo, who were moved by the tragic stories of teens Amanda Todd and Rahteah Parsons, both driven to suicide by bullying.

Todd killed herself in October 2012 after being bullied over nude photos posted through social media, reported Canadian Press. Aydin Coban, who now is on trial in the Netherlands, charged with child pornography and extortion involving 39 people and implicated in suicide of Todd (none of the charges have been proven). Canadian officials want the Dutch man extradited to Canada to face trial for five charges connected to the death of Todd.

The suicide of Parsons was reportedly related to sexual humiliation and bullying. Parsons, attempted suicide by hanging on April 4, 2013, at her home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, leading to a coma and the decision to switch her life support machine off on April 7. Her death has been attributed to online distribution of photos of an alleged gang rape that occurred 17 months prior to her suicide.

The Hateless group tours schools to deliver anti-bullying and self-acceptance messages through music and interactive communication. So far, Hateless has reached over 25,000 students worldwide. The theme of the group was inspired by Flo’s song Hateless.

Barrett told those at the awards ceremony that Green suffered through depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder from a young age. “In times of despair, Tara tried to end her life four times,” he said. “But she found sparks of hope in the midst of her battle and made the decision to seek healing. And as she did, Tara started believing in new truths. Tara’s not alone in the battle and today, Tara knows mental illness doesn’t have the power to steal her life away.”

Through Hateless and her volunteer roles, Green uses her story to share he message: “Everyone’s life is worth fighting for.”

Cox is a first-year student at the University of Winnipeg and the multi-talented musical director of Hateless.

Barret told those present that Cox grew up being bullied, and held the pain of rejection and emotional abuse inside for many years.

“He turned the anger he felt towards his bullies upon himself,” said Barrett. “But Duncan’s inner fire would not go out. In Grade 10, Duncan decided to come out and tell everyone that he is gay. The bullying continued, but Duncan used the energy of his anger to look at the issue of bullying itself. His whole outlook changed when he learned to accept himself.”

The young man now uses his personal experiences to help others deal with homophobic bullying, promoting the values of kindness, self-acceptance and acceptance of everyone, added Barrett.

As the musical director of Hateless, he organizes the groups’ music, splitting lead vocals and playing guitar in the band that tours schools.

For making a “life-saving difference,” Barrett thanked the two young people for reminding “us that standing up to bullying starts simple, with just being a true friend to someone who is being bullied.”

Such insight wasn’t available in my own youth, but when I think back, that was probably the nagging message my brain was receiving when I encountered such acts of blatant cruelty.

Manitoba’s Lieutenant-Governor Janice Filmon told those gathered that the accomplishments of Manitoba’s volunteers benefits and inspires so many others, which is exactly what Cox and Green are doing.