Bullying is a terrible thing. Looking back on my school years, it fortunately wasn’t very bad in my case. There were emotional issues as there are for any teenagers, and drama between friends who turned into enemies (and typically back to friends again) was naturally rampant. But the incessant torment wasn’t there, and I avoided physical assault spare accidentally getting salt in my eyes. (It wasn’t nearly as funny as the Kids in the Hall sketch.)
This retrospective, though, shines light on my own behaviour, and that of my friends, towards other people. My social circle was a diverse range of geeks and smarties and weirdoes, mostly sticking together because of a lack of desire to fit in anywhere else. It was supposed to be a refuge, a sanctuary beyond cliques (rhymes with pique and is not a homophone of click) to anybody who didn’t want to fall within a box, but it was not all roses of acceptance. Not everyone was treated well.
I had my turn in falling into that group. People were mean to me at points in my life. I forgave and we made amends – which was a good plan as we’re still close friends – and after reconciliation I belonged again. Other people weren’t so lucky.
A lot of things were funny to us. There was always gossip. The very extreme of adolescent awkwardness – body odour, acne and facial hair at the crossroads between boy and man – was mocked in those we didn’t like. Not everybody had smooth social skills. There were a few people to whom we were mean.
I can’t say I’m innocent in the bully problem. I wasn’t violent (okay, except for once but to somebody who wasn’t vulnerable and totally deserved it) and I didn’t go out of my way to ceaselessly harass people. But at some points in high school I probably made, or helped make, a few people feel like shit. I want to go back in time and avoid that, or at least run into those people now and apologize for contributing to those moments of mockery. It was rare to even witness visible forms of bullying in my school, and there were no suicides in the six years I attended. We were all fortunate to that extent, but recent dialogue has led me to rethink my own behaviour and see if there was something I did that was part of the problem. And there was. I can’t parade around saying that I’m a beacon of respectful teenage behaviour. But acknowledging that is a step forward, for me and the general dialogue.