Roy Green takes on bullying

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The Workplace Bullying Institute reports “35 percent of U.S. workers report being bullied at work; 15 percent have witnessed it; 68 percent of bullying is same-gender harassment; 58 percent of targets are women; 80 percent of the time, female bullies target other women.”

Workplace bullying, according to the Washington State Department of Labour and Industries, can consist of, but is not limited to, unwarranted or invalid criticism, blame without factual justification, being treated differently than the rest of your work group, being sworn at, exclusion or social isolation, being shouted at or being humiliated, excessive monitoring or micro-managing, being given unrealistic work deadlines.

A prevalence study of U.S. workers found 41.4 per cent, or 47 million respondents experienced psychological aggression at work in the last year.  Almost 15 million workers experienced psychological aggression weekly.

Recent programs I have aired on the issue of bullying both in the workplace and among preteens and teens resulted in scores of on air calls and listener emails.  A former detective sergeant in a major Canadian municipal police service quit his multi-decade career over bullying he describes in these terms, “until you have actually lived through a bullying situation you have no idea of the devastation it will cause in your life.  While I was being harassed, bullied and threatened I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown or a stress induced heart attack and was forced to leave my job to keep my health.”  

As challenging as workplace bullying clearly is, it is childhood victimization which most resonates viscerally.

Canadians recoiled over the recent suicide of 11 year old Mitchell Wilson of Pickering, Ontario, a child afflicted with muscular dystrophy.  Was Mitchell’s suicide linked to a vicious attack by an older boy who attended the same school?  No one can be certain, but Mitchell’s father told media that following the assault his son entered a downward spiral emotionally.  The bully was expelled, but Mitchell continued to be the target of ridicule.

Talk of suicide as an escape from bullying is not uncommon.  Jenny, a Toronto mother told me her 10 year old son Jacob has spoken of suicide.  Recently.
 Another Ontario mother, Lynne, who when speaking of her 14 year old son’s friendless life and the bullying he faces regularly (her son prefers to not have even his first name made public), touched so many, including NHL player and enforcer Richard Greenop.

While Lynne’s son’s primary school graduating class was looking forward to a Quebec City school trip and prom, he fearfully refused to attend either.  Lynne asked her son to put his feelings to paper.  These are his words.

•••

I Am Just a Boy (by a Grade 8 student in Guelph): 

I am just a boy who didn’t have any choices about the hell I have endured.

I am just a boy who couldn’t wait to go to school and learn and be liked.

I am just a boy who wanted to make friends and be part of the team.

I am just a boy who didn’t get to realize this dream.

I am just a boy who would walk around the playground, alone and sad, as I watched other kids play soccer and wished they would call me over to join in – just once.

I am just a boy who never got picked for a team and was always last picked in gym class.

I am just a boy who was teased for lacking in athletic ability and mocked for the way I run.

I am just a boy who desperatedly wanted to share my story but had to suffer in silence for fear of more torment.

I am just a boy who had to suck it up and pretend I was fine and didn’t matter.

I am just a boy who wanted a friend and confidant.

I am just a boy who wanted to be accepted for my differences but liked more because of them.

I am just a boy who looked forward to ending my primary school years better than they started.

I am just a boy who wanted to go on the year end trip with my classmates feeling a sense of belonging.

I am just a boy who just learned that I am not accepted and I don’t belong.

I am just a boy who won’t be victimized anymore and will make choices that will not subject me to the constant messages of you don’t matter, or you are a freak.

I am just a boy who will leave elementary school the same way I started, wanting a friend, wanting to feel accepted, wanting to be “one of the gang”.

I am just a boy who had to be brave and pretend that none of this hurt.

I am just a boy who is funny and kind and plays by the rules.

I am just a boy who doesn’t understand why subtle yet constant badgering isn’t considered bullying – yet it hurts just as much.

I am just a boy who is tired of waiting for it to stop, waiting for adults to make kids accountable, waiting for a better tomorrow.

I am just a boy who is wishing his childhood away because I hear that adults don’t behave that way.

I am just a boy who loves life and laughter and all the things that other kids like and for that I am not different.

I am just a boy who hopes that one kid understands the impact of being so mean, so unkind.

I am just a boy who wonders if they think about the cruel things they say, the cruel things they do.

I am just a boy who wonders if they are being mistreated and that is why they are so careless with their words that cut through my soul.

I am just a boy who promises to never ever treat anyone like this.

I am just a boy who promises to raise children, to be kind and thoughtful and tough enough to stand up to those who don’t.

I am – just a boy.

•••

These words, read by a distressed mother, created a national outpouring of support.  Richard Greenop of the Toronto Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies is befriending Lynne’s son and hockey enforcer though he may be, Greenop explained he would even in high school, as a popular student and athlete, stand up for the bullied.  “I didn’t like seeing it and it always cut straight to my core. I would always step in and for that even some of my peers would make comments about sticking up for people.  I would love to be a friend of this boy.”

What to do to address bullying cross-societally?

You can get lost in research and statistical data, both among the young and in the workplace.  Human Resources and Skills Development Canada suggests “one in seven boys between the ages of 4 and 11 bully others and approximately one in 20 are victimized by others sometimes or very often.  Approximately one in 11 girls between the ages of 4 and 11 bully others, while one in fourteen are victimized.  For both boys and girls, however, victimization increased with age”.

Statistics and research may be useful structural tools in formulating anti-bullying policies.  I suspect however that workplace and youth bullying numbers fail to accurately represent real numbers.  Many children and indeed adults will undoubtedly prefer not to admit to being bullied, or being a bully for that matter.

Whatever the actual figures, bullying is a scourge and any positive effects of anti-bullying efforts depend entirely on the level of commitment by parents, schools and/or employers.  

With the advent of cyber technology bullying is no longer limited to personal and direct encounters.  Email, texting and social network attacks expose the bullied to a never ending series of encounters with dread.

When bullying causes a multi decade senior police officer to resign before qualifying for full pension, or a child to contemplate suicide, surely we each have a responsibility to support the bullied.  

We clearly have the opportunity.

Roy Green is a contributor to the National Post and the host of the Roy Green Show, a national program weekends on the Corus radio network. 

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