So, my Mom would have called it a “tempest in a teapot”. Since my last blog and the coincidental appearance on the Charles Adler radio show heard across Canada, it seems I stirred the pot, which was absolutely my intention. What I did not intend was any offence, although a couple of replies to my blog were offensive and personal. No worries, living life without arms tends to either take away your strength or embolden it so my thick skin will tell you which choice I made.
On that note, bullying is a highly personal matter and every single person, be they the victim, their family members or importantly, the bullies themselves have a point of view. I had one note that was stupified that “anyone” would bully someone without arms. I also had a note that suggested I was never bullied and I make up stories to support my ideas. I want to set the record straight; I was definitely bullied. It began in fifth grade and was subtle in that most of it involved exclusion. Where I would be invited to participate in games at recess or after school, the invitations were reduced then ended. Where students felt empathy for me, many started to get laughs at my expense. I was handicapped, indeed, but I believe other elements added to my problems. Unlike many of my male peers, I wasn’t athletic and since that element tends to define boys growing into young men, I was also labelled a wimp. I had buck teeth, so boys (girls never did anything with the exception of saying no to dance requests at sock-hops) would exaggerate big teeth and snort as I went by. I remember several boys who I thought were my friends, turning into my enemies and athough they were mean, they didn’t hurt me, with one exception. After school in sixth grade, I was lured behind the school where five boys surrounded me, one punched me in the gut and after I fell to the ground they all kicked me a few times (but not in my face), laughed and ran away. I was obviously upset, as were my parents, but I begged them not to do anything as I believed it was a one-time event designed to send a message not to mess with them.
There were countless episodes over the next several years, but none of them violent. Did I put up with them because I knew that forty years later, I’d be a speaker addressing methods of surviving bullies? Did my parents choose to remain silent because they didn’t love me? Did these bullies become world-class criminals making careers out of intimidating and harming weaker people? If I could go back would I desire re-living those events? Of course, categorically “NO” to all questions. But when I look back at those days and force myself to be objective, I was such a predictable target. It is completely unfair that weaker people are taken advantage of in society but it is real.
My friend, Barbara Coloroso, famous author, speaker and anti-bullying advocate espouses an admirable theory of creating safe and caring schools and without question it is worth pursuing and is a highly positive response to a very negative domain. The only problem is reality. The real world is cruel and unforgiving. My parents knew this and although they hated when I would come home crying, their mantra was always the same, “This too shall pass!”. One of the new movements revovles around a similar notion. The “It Gets BetterProject”(www.itgetsbetter.org)
is identical to what my parents preached and points directly at empowering victims encouraging them to hang in there, be strong and things will get better. I had someone write me and suggests that strategy is “laughable”.
Well, this blog is all about clarifying that we all have our point of view and one can hardly argue that all involved in bullying want it to stop. But one last thought.
I quit a dream job in radio in 1981 to begin speaking to young people at schools, first in Alberta, then Saskatchewan, Canada, North America and indeed around the world. I never would have guessed that I’d be over 50 and busier than ever. On Wednesday, I will speak to a corporate audience for Dell Computers at the University of Texas Conference Center in Austin. The meeting organizer heard me speak at her high school in Omaha, Nebraska in the early 90’s. Her meeting’s theme is directed at reducing people’s excuses in an environment that has more challenges than ever before. When considering speakers, she thought of me. That’s almost 20 years ago! I am not bragging but I am saying people remember my story for various reasons, even shallow ones like playing the drums with my feet but what they say is they remember my personal strength, perseverance and passion for helping people find theirs.
I never revel in a teen suicide and the conncection to bullies and I never, ever suggest that people, including parents, should “just get over it!”
My message is really quite simple; you get one life, fair or not, and what you do with it is ultimately yours to bear and all I ask is for people to consider the choices, rather than excuses, I made that have ultimately made me the strong and balanced person I am today.