The difficult topic if bullying has been right front and centre in Ottawa since the tragic suicide of Jamie Hubley. Openly gay in high school, Jamie was relentlessly bullied. In a public statement, Jamie’s family said that bullying was a factor in his death. Jamie also suffered from depression. The tragedy of Jamie Hubley’s death was followed by a rash of newspaper coverage and open line radio programming on growing up gay in Ontario and homophobic bullying in our high schools.
Can we all agree that bullying, homophobic and otherwise, is bad?
Among the flurry of well-meaning hand wringing, a group of Conservative staffers and MPs have put together a simple “It gets better” video. I’m not posting the link , you can find it easily on YouTube. The video sent the Twitterverse a-flutter with criticism. I don’t argue that the current government’s record on LGBT issues is satisfactory but apparently being a member of the CPC disqualifies you from feeling empathy for bullied gay teens. In this piece from the National Post, MP Randall Garrison disses the video because, we are told, gays have the monopoly on offering hope and encouragement to gay teenagers. And yet, common sense suggests that tolerance and acceptance must come not so much from the LGBT community as from the rest of us. If Vic Toews, who voted against the gay marriage amendment, is taking part in a campaign against homophobic bullying, shouldn’t we applaud him and demand that more be done instead of shooting him down? Isn’t there enough to criticize about the government – can you spell “mandatory minimums”? – that we need to set our sights on the positive? Anyway, let’s not spend too much time on Randall Garrison’s partisan attacks on good intentions. Unless Olivia Chow is really a guy, I don’t think Garrison really meant what he said.
The article also quotes Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better campaign and a university professor heaping scorn on the YouTube clip because It Doesn’t Go Far Enough – as if the Conservative MPs, who look like they were cornered coming out of QP, could have spent their 3 minutes solving the world’s problems instead of rhyming off their lines. This is clearly a case where the best is his the enemy of the good. The professor concludes by calling for, wait for it, a National Strategy on bullying. This is Canada folks, where it’s not a problem until we ask the government to solve it for us.
Don’t get me wrong, bullying is a problem. It ruins lives. Sometimes it ends it. But focusing as we do on the cause of the bullying (homosexuality, race, uh, glasses?) misses the point. Unless we want a couple millions of federal dollars to miss the point nationally, we need to start asking why anti-bullying campaigns have yet to eliminate bullying.
Right from kindergarten, you have to have lived under a rock not to know that bullying is wrong. Beating a kid black and blue is wrong. Stealing his food is wrong. I venture that bullies do it because it’s wrong not because they need another Government of Canada flyer to let them know it’s wrong. The bystanders who fail to intervene also know it’s wrong. When I was in elementary school, a kid on my street was beaten all the way home on a daily basis. Some of the kids who did the beating didn’t even live in my neighbourhood, they only came for the show. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. But I knew it was wrong.
There are two things we know about bullying. First, it is a spectator sport. We need to give bystanders the tools to intervene safely, without exposing themselves to bullying. Second, bullying is a learned behaviour, which is why school teachers and principals are such chickens when it comes to getting involved with a bully’s family. Look at any school and you will see bullying being addressed by removing the victim, referring the victim to social work and asking the victim’s family to make accommodations. School authorities are all but too aware that some people, adults and also children, are missing a moral compass and impulse control. They are unable to feel empathy for their victims and indulge their need to feel powerful in the face of powerlessness above their victim’s need for security and integrity.
I don’t know what the cure for a missing moral compass is but I suspect that a national strategy on bullying will not impart it to those who need it most. We will achieve a few expensive policy papers confirming that bullying is wrong and must be stopped. More importantly, we will shift responsibility for the welfare of others from you and I and our children unto the state. It will make us feel like we’re doing something and justify us in walking away. But it will offer little comfort to the kid who just got his head smashed into the lockers.