A Senseless Tragedy Because of Bullying

A commentary on the absurdity of bullying

From: timeout.com

Most people that I know go into the new year with optimism, hoping that the commencement of a new year will bring a better year then the previous one. Perhaps they hope that there will be more cooperation between peoples and nations, that people are more tolerant and inclusive, and love for fellow human brothers and sisters becomes more prevalent. Or, as one New Year greeting says, “The approaching New Year brings hope to everyone for calmness, kindness and fulfillment of dreams.” I started 2020 with this hope and then I came across the Telegraph’s headline, PhD student took her own life after classmates mocked her for not being ‘posh enough’, and my hopes for 2020 were shattered.

The article reports that a 26-year-old attending the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the city of Kent, England, was found deceased due to suicide. It seems this young student was vulnerable, as the third-year doctoral candidate struggled with anxiety, depression, and a low-self-esteem after allegedly being bullied because she was state-educated instead of privately schooled as her peers were. The post-graduate student also struggled with the “toxic” environment in the university laboratory, and according to her mother, was also struggling with her thesis.

What caused such a tragedy? The sad truth is the issue was the deceased anthropology student received a state education and the others received a private education. She ‘wasn’t posh enough’ her mother says. In other words, she wasn’t high-class or was considered inferior to her peers. Her mother reports that her daughter told her “about being mocked for her accent and because she’d never been sailing.”

My blood boils when I read a story like this. It brings me back to when I was in Grade 5 in the village I grew up in. In Grade Five, the farm boys bullied me because I lived in town where my dad ran a service station. The “farm boys” accused the town boys of being lazy, having no chores, and being weaklings.

The bottom line is a tragedy occurred for a ridiculous reason. This 26-year-old with the potential of changing the world for the better took her own life because her peers, who came from privilege, harassed her and saw her as inferior. I was bullied because my classmates  from a farming background saw themselves as superior because they did farm chores. The bullying that happened to me and to the anthropology student is absurd.

The rock band, Simple Plan, has a song titled, “Welcome to My Life,” that I believe relays what the 26-year-old in this story was likely feeling. If you haven’t heard the song, here it is.

Here are some of the song’s lyrics:

Do you want to be somebody else?
Are you sick of feeling so left out?
Are you desperate to find something more
Before your life is over

Are you stuck inside a world you hate?
Are you sick of everyone around?
With the big fake smiles and stupid lies
But deep inside you’re bleeding

No you don’t know what its like
When nothing feels alright
You don’t know what its like to be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you’re down
To feel like you’ve been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one there to save you
No you don’t know what its like
Welcome to my life

This song, in my view, captures what a victim of a bully feels. Do you want to be somebody else? Yes. Are you sick of everyone around? Clearly, as that is why victims attempt suicide. No you don’t know what its like when nothing feels alright. You don’t know what its like to be like me. No one knows what it feels like to be a bully’s victim, unless they’ve been one. Only victims relate to these lyrics. To be hurt. To feel lost… I felt like this in Grade 5. I felt hurt. I felt lost. I felt left out. I felt rejected and unaccepted. Why? Because I lived in town and not a farm. The post-graduate student from Kent, England felt this way too—I would bet on it—because she was state-educated and not privately schooled; because she did not come from privilege, and now she is dead because of it. Shameful!

There is a very simple solution to bullying. It is called the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or as the Author of “If Heaven had a Mailbox”, Jill Telford says, “Start each day asking, “How do I want others to feel?” Then act accordingly.” If every single person lived their life following this very simple rule, bullying would stop. Try it!

 

Has the True Message of Christmas Been Lost?

A commentary on the Christmas message.

from http://www.shutterfly.com/

A saying often seen on Christmas cards is, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice in the birth of the Lord – for unto us a child is given this night to bring peace and love to all [hu]mankind.” Another is a quote from Luke 2:13-14 from the Christian scriptures which says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace and Goodwill is a message we hear every Christmas season. New Year’s greetings often involve a wish for peace,  examples being, “Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, prosperity and good fortune,” or “May the New Year bring joy, peace and happiness to you and your family.”

Yet, despite the fact that we are in a Christmas  and New Years season with its message of peace and goodwill, we see stories of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and rejection.  On December 23, 2019, two days before Christmas, the headline, 11-Year-Old Vegan Ordered To Eat Grass By School Bullies appeared on my newsfeed.

The story describes how bullies rammed a tuna melt into a Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School student’s face, and then told the 11-year-old to eat grass. According to the victim’s parents, their son has faced torment in the Acocks Green, Birmingham, England school because he doesn’t eat animal products; in other words, chooses to be vegan. The victim’s dad says “It’s got so bad he [the victim] is now pretending to be ill just to avoid school.”

This story shows intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusiveness of another. It is a sad example that shows what the Christmas and New Years message of “Peace and Goodwill” is not. In order for peace to occur, there must be tolerance, understanding and acceptance. Without these three things, peace is impossible in my view.  Cambridge Dictionary defines tolerance as willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from their own. Understanding a person, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is when a person has the ability to know how other people are feeling; in other words, they have empathy.  Acceptance of a person is the act of agreeing to a person belonging to your group as an equal. Peace occurs when differences of any kind are accepted, and it is understood others think and do things differently. To quote Neal Donald Walsch; “My way is not the only way. It is just a way.”

A common expression I hear during the Christmas season is, “Jesus Is the Reason For The Season,” which is correct since Christmas is a celebration of  Jesus’ birth. Since this bullying occurred in a Catholic School, it should be safe to say the bullies were familiar with the Christmas message.

from thecatholicrealist.com

Jesus was one of the most tolerant, understanding and accepting people ever. In Luke 15:2 of the Christian scriptures, Jesus drew anger of the scribes and Pharisees for eating with sinners and outlaws. In Luke 7:34, Jesus is accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The tax collectors in Biblical times were Jews who worked for the despised Romans, as tax collectors were seen as traitors to their own citizens. Matthew 9:9-13 tells the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple. In Mark 2:15 Jesus sits at table with many tax collectors and sinners. Luke 5:32 describes how the scribes and Pharisees grumble about the company Jesus keeps. Jesus tells them that he has “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Clearly, Jesus was tolerant, understanding and accepting of everyone.

The truth is, I am baffled. I am trying to understand how a Christian festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years; a festival that celebrates a child who is said to bring peace and love to all humankind, and yet we continue to have a pervasiveness of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusivity in our world. Has Christianity failed with its message of love, tolerance, acceptance and understanding? Has the message been lost? Has humanity failed to understand the Christmas message? All I know, is something has gone wrong.

The reality is, rejection of others comes from a place of fear. It is a fear of difference, change, or the unfamiliar. The article, Accepting Other Peoples Differences, says many people are fearful of others because they’re not sure how to go about communicating with those who differ from them. They fear that their own little ‘cocoon of protection’ might be threatened. To say it another way, they make the mistake of believing that others’ viewpoints and opinions might threaten their way of thinking and acting . Every person’s culture, values, uniqueness, and viewpoints deserves respect even if we don’t understand or agree with it.

Jesus commands in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  When we “love one another” we are tolerant and understanding of others, and we accept them with all their differences. That is the Christmas and New Years message that seems to have been lost because of fear. I long for the true meaning of Christmas to return, and be understood. Perhaps this year your New Years resolution should be to practice tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and to teach your children to do the same.

My New Years Resolution – No More News

new-year-clipart-best-free-happy-new-year-borders-clip-artOn January 6, 2017, my wife and I along with our three wonderful children flew back from Mexico after spending Christmas and New Years at a resort. It was paradise with its long ocean beaches, good food, 25 degree Celsius or better temperatures and quality family time. There was time to relax, reflect and forget about everything. I didn’t check my phone once which meant I was totally out of touch with world events.

When we arrived back home, I thought I should check the news to see what is happening in the world. When I did I saw headlines such as;

  • At least 5 dead, 8 hospitalized after shooting at Ft. Lauderdale airport
  • U.S. allies warn of “new level of threat” from North Korea
  • Hundreds arrested, police officer killed in Mexico gas price protests
  • Brazil gang kills 31, many hacked to death, as prison violence explodes
  • Rapes and violence continue in Germany in first week of 2017

What a “downer” it was to read these headlines after spending two weeks in paradise away from reality.

New Year’s Eve was wonderful at our resort. The Mexicans know how to throw a good New Year’s Eve party. The hundreds of people attending the party were festive, cheerful and the room had a wonderful energy; an energy I would describe as optimism and hope.

Whenever a new year concludes people start to tell you about their new year’s resolutions. Now I have to admit, in the past I haven’t been much into the new year’s resolution hullabaloo. When I practiced partaking in new year’s resolutions, like most people, I would start off the year doing my best to honour my new year’s resolution but by the end of January I’d “throw it out the window”.  Resolutions were just too much effort. I would ultimately come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions were just a ridiculous ritual.

Where did the idea of New Year’s resolutions even come from? Is it practiced in all countries? I was curious so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, a New Year’s resolution is when a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour. It is a tradition that is most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is believed to have started with the ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honour of the New Year, however for them the year began not in January but in mid-March when the crops were planted.

This year I feel different. This year I am taking on a new year’s resolution. That resolution is to watch less news. I’m not convinced I can stop “cold turkey”.  Why you ask? The answer is simple. The news is depressing. The news media for the most part report the stories of tragedy and sorrow; news stories that cause anxiety.  Now I’ve been told (I don’t remember who) that the mind is like a computer. What goes in is what comes out. So, if that is true and we are constantly filling our minds with tragedy and sorrow, then we become more and more anxious and fearful.

fight-or-flightAccording to Wikipedia, when we start to feel excessive anxiety we’re in trouble. Our bodies never turn off our fight, flight or freeze response. As a former biology teacher, I can tell you that chronic stress, or when the body is in flight or fight mode over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. Specifically, a raised heart rate causes hypertension (high blood pressure) which puts you at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Maybe this is why according to the America Heart Association one of every three deaths in the U.S. in 2013 were from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. According to the Government of Canada cardiovascular disease  is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

Napoleon Hill was an American new thought author who is well known for his book, Think and Grow Rich. Mr. Hill once said,

“Our minds become magnetized with the dominating thoughts we hold in our minds and these magnets attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with the nature of our dominating thoughts.”

Napoleon Hill would likely say that if you’re watching stories that causes your thoughts to be negative and fearful, then that is what becomes your dominating thoughts.   Karen Marie Moning, an American author, seems to agree as she says:

“Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become. In the midst of good people, it is easy to be good. in the midst of bad people, it is easy to be bad.”

If we surround ourselves with “negative news” then we become negative, anxious and fearful. So for me, if watching less negative news makes me feel more positive, optimistic and joyful, then it is worth it. It is so easy to get caught up in the negativity in the world that our minds start to tell us that the world is falling apart; that the world is going to hell; that the world is a “bad” place. I’ve never believed that the world is a horrible place to be. I’ve written about that in previous posts. Anytime I’ve travelled, I’ve met wonderful people who are happy. Our recent trip to Mexico reminded me of that once again. The Mexicans we met were wonderful people. They were joyful, helpful, kind and generous.

The Huffington Post has a news story called, Former Reporter Poses The question we must all ask ourselves about negative news. The story is about Michelle Gielan who was working as a local and national news reporter who covered numerous heartbreaking stories. In all her years as a television journalist, one particular story stuck out and made her question everything about how tragedy is covered in the media. Gielan was assigned to cover the funeral of a young girl who had been an innocent bystander caught up in deadly gang violence in Chicago. A week later, Gielan was covering the young girl’s funeral. That is when the reporter had an epiphany. “It was just beautiful,” she says. “We could talk about the fact that there’s pain and tragedy here, but there’s also hope and optimism and resilience… One story leaves us activated. The other leaves us paralyzed.” It is the elevation of positive news stories and hope, she continues, that holds true power. “What would happen if we talked about that stuff on the news?” Gielan asks. “How would that transform the community? How would that transform the world?” I would encourage you to read the story. Michelle Gielan has since left her job as a reporter and is now a positive psychology researcher.

If the media is going to continue to report on “pain and tragedy” then I choose to no longer watch it. If enough of us make that choice, then maybe, just maybe the news media will change their approach. They can still cover the same stories, but focus on “hope and the optimism”. It’s just a different way of looking at the story. Until then, it very little news for me.