Many of us bloggers are taking time this week to write about a serious issue: bullying. We're writing about it because another teenager has died here in Ottawa. He took his own life, in order to escape from his struggles with depression and bullying.
As I sat listening to the words of his father, a councillor here in Ottawa, the sadness I felt from this wasted life turned into anger.
I'm angry because Jamie lost his battle with depression. I'm angry because Jamie couldn't be himself in a world that demands conformity. I'm angry because our society as a whole fails, time and time again, to help young people deal with the challenges they face.
But most of all, I'm angry with the bullies. I am filled with anger directed at them.
I realize that there are other factors that contributed to Jamie's suicide. I know that mental health issues are multifaceted, and take a long time to get under control. And I'm sure that Jamie's family, his school, and his friends tried to take action.
But I remember those bullies well. Although I can not begin to imagine what Jamie went through, I can certainly relate to the experience of being bullied. My middle school years are not fond memories. Several girls in my class, including me, were targets of gossip and cruel words and it made school life a rotten experience. I was extremely lucky to have a couple of great girlfriends, and the sympathetic ear of the vice principle, who did as much as she could to support us through those challenges. And although I was not a gay youth, I was called a lesbian and bullied about my sexuality. For a young teen, this is particularly devastating.
But my girlfriends and I did not receive the worst. I remember another young girl, slightly overweight, who was the subject of relentless and cruel treatment. She was bullied physically and emotionally, and eventually had to move schools because of the abuse.
My thoughts go to the girls who did the bullying - what was wrong with them? How did they become so cruel? Is it possible to be inherently mean or does it have a lot to do with the skills of the parents? Or is it just that the parents weren't aware of what was going on?
I reflect on these memories now that I have my own daughter. The thought of her growing up to bully other children makes me sick to my stomach. How do we prevent this?
I'm far from an expert, but I think that raising empathetic children is the key. Teaching them - from the newborn stage - the importance of recognizing and sharing another person's feelings is the BEST way to ensure that children will become compassionate adults.
This reminds me of an episode of my favourite show Being Erica, which aired just the other week. In it, Erica is a "therapist-in-training" and is called upon to help a man who she does not like. As she struggles to help someone she despises, her own therapist tells her "you are your patient. You are every patient you will ever have, and you are every person you will ever meet."
When we put ourselves on another level, and look down on others, we are saying I am not you.
And that, my friends, is how wars are started; how fights or disagreements arise; and how we come to marginalize others. It is based on the fact that we have separated US from THEM, or ME and YOU.
As soon as we take this step to separate ourselves, and as soon as we draw that line in the sand, we have lost the battle. As humans, this is how we fail each other, time and time again.
I will make a plea to you tonight - I ask you to talk to your children about these lines that we draw. I ask you to work in your own lives to erase these barriers. And most importantly, I ask you to help your children realize that we are every person we will ever meet.
This is Matthew Barber's You and Me.