“I had a hard time with bullying in school, so being creative was my outlet.” ~ Ashley Nell Tipton
I was an introverted, quiet child. Sometimes it took me longer to try new things than it took other, more self-assured kids. As someone whose family moved a lot, it took me longer and longer with each change, to find out how to get to know people, and to trust them enough to let them know me. In addition, my relationship with my older sibling was not easy; in the story of our relationship one might sympathize with my earliest experiences of being teased, picked on, and bullied. Indeed a constellation of experiences has impacted my confidence and caused me anxiety. I was socially awkward and despite the creative things I had to offer, I never fit in with the popular kids. I often felt lonely and sometimes even invisible. I wish I could say this ended in childhood but the truth is that it has dogged me much of my life, and even as an adult in various work environments. It can be particularly hurtful to be deliberately excluded by those with so- called “superior social skills”. It’s pretty pathetic, but there are mean adults out there.
As an educator who has been bullied well into adulthood I am a witness to the beginnings of this kind of behaviour in early childhood. Name calling. Teasing. Physical intimidation. Taking someone’s things. Breaking someone’s things. Telling someone they can’t play. I see the hurt that it causes, and the loneliness, and I can relate to it. Ironically, I was recently at a party, and I found myself sitting alone at a table where moments earlier someone had started a conversation about how loneliness has become a social epidemic before departing to sit with other people. When I tried to join another table I was not greeted, or invited to join in the conversations that were already happening. Suddenly all of the talking sounded like noise in my head and everything seemed disconnected. Anxiety took hold, and I bolted, something that for me has become a signature move in such situations. But what does leaving accomplish, apart from making me feel even more isolated, and empowering the bullies?
“Children should be able to live a life free from bullying and harrassment and it is time that we all took a stand against this.” ~ Katherine Jenkins
How many times have I said to a child something like, “If someone is being unkind, walk away. You can’t change them. Play with someone else”? What if they don’t know how? What if they can’t find someone else? The party was like a wake-up call. As a victim of bullying and as an educator who is in a position to do something more meaningful about it, perhaps it is time for me to be a better listener and to find a better course of action both for children in my care, and for myself. One thing to do as educators is be aware of organizations such as BullyingCanada and PREVNet for the resources and strategies they provide for addressing bullying. Be informed and be proactive. And for adults being bullied, try to understand the nature of loneliness and what might be done to alleviate some of the pain caused by bullies.
Followers of my blog know I have a secret other life where I make music, write, knit and paint, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of truly amazing people. Creative experiences have really saved me and so has the the support of a few good friends. Until I make my peace with bullies, I resolve to do the following: make building stronger relationships with my friends a higher priority; continue to do the creative things that give me joy; seek out inspiring role-models who have risen above bullying through their creativity; find ways to help children cope with, or speak out against bullies, through the arts. I want the children in my care to always have a creative outlet, to find and use their voice and to know that if they are being bullied they are not alone.
“Each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness. No one deserves to be bullied.” ~ Barack Obama