I’ve said before that bullying should be addressed within the school curriculum, and will say it again, given that the federal government yesterday announced it will be addressing the issue using the Red Cross’s Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination program.
Funding will be channelled to the Canadian Red Cross through the Department of Canadian Heritage via its Youth Take Charge program, meant to help youth become engaged in their communities. The $250,000 allocated to the Canadian Red Cross, will allow the agency to continue working to empower youth to overcome bullying, work already begun under its Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project.
The prime minister’s wife, Laureen Harper and the Heritage Minister James Moore yesterday made the announcement at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in Ottawa. Mrs. Harper said in her speech that she found bullying and cyber-bullying troubling, particularly as a parent. And simply as an adult, she is most likely aware that bullying isn’t new. Like bacteria, it’s been around for ages, and adapts to new environments by employing new tactics to survive. So yes, cyber-bullying was not an issue in her time, but bullying, whether in Turner Valley, Alberta or in Toronto, Ontario, predates her and her parents and her parents’ parents. It is so pervasive that it reaches into the House of Commons. It reaches us via various media and it touches us in our homes.
Government funding is expected to help stamp out the problem, enabling the Red Cross to first train 2,400 youth ranging in age from 13 to 17, who are expected to go back into their school communities and support their peers by employing and sharing via workshops, and other events, the anti-bullying information they’ve learned. And if each young facilitator commits to reach 20 others, then the expected reach is 48,000. Add to that the second round of 150 facilitators to be created in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and British Columbia, and the program reach becomes 51,000, based on information in a Red Cross news release about the new funding.
However, that reach represents roughly 20 per cent of kids served by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) alone. Surely we can and must do better than that, if the problem is accepted as serious.
The TDSB alone has nearly 600 schools, and reports serving more than 250,000 students yearly. And all of these students need to have the skills to deal with bullying, so I believe anti-bullying program information and coping skills should be disseminated more generally via the provincially funded school systems. The TDSB, for example, could modify its curriculum possibly using information already created by the Red Cross, to teach conflict resolution skills and nurture emotional intelligence from the early years, before bullying manifests in more serious forms or leads to depression and/or suicide, such as was the case with Jamie Hubley, a 15-year old figure skater with a love for music, who was teased throughout his teens and felt isolated as an openly gay young man attending the school where this funding announcement was made.
“Bullying,” defined by Wikipedia, “consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal, and physical,” all of which typically involve “subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation.” And, though normally thought of as affecting school children, bullying also occurs in the workplace and at home. When it occurs online it is called cyber-bullying. In other environments it may manifest differently, and may be as direct as a fist, or as indirect as laughing at another person’s hairstyle and having your friends do so too.
To Conservative MP Leon Benoit’s point that the prime minister has been bullied in the past; Well, two wrongs, as the saying goes, do not make a right. Someone has to look critically at the conduct and see if it belongs in a mature political environment. The most current Conservative Party attack ads target the confident, youthful Justin Trudeau as a privileged Johnny-come-lately, two years prior to any expected election (not that it’s ever condoned), so what is such activity but bullying? Is it not political aggression, or a form of social aggression in that it mocks and singles out for ridicule? Trudeau will carry on, but we saw the impact of similar attacks in 2006 on Stephane Dion, who was labelled as studious but “not fit to lead.”
Without the full support of his party, and with the attack ads, Stephane Dion seemed weak and desperate; he was even painted as a foreigner in a country normally proud of accepting others, and amidst the noise, his message became lost, or confused. Eventually he lost his bid to become prime minister because Canadians did not choose him to lead. He’s carried on in politics since and did not resign from the party, which showed more strength than he was rumoured to have. But what if he had committed suicide after the incessant humiliation unleashed while he campaigned to lead the country? Would we be comfortable hearing another party say, oh politicians have to be tougher than the regular Jane or Joe?
All that just to say, maybe it would be better to conduct ourselves with integrity individually, as well as in groups, and in political and other environments, using as a kind of guide to appropriate behaviour, a phrase I often heard as a child: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!
Will it create a society of angels? I doubt it; but people are already making a connection between bullying and the Conservative party. With members like John Baird (known as the Conservative Party’s “attack dog”) and its incessant use of “attack ads,” the party has effectively planted the question: “Couldn’t the Conservatives benefit from some anti-bullying training, too?”
If it would help politics become as civil as can be, wouldn’t you support anti-bullying training in parliament too? After all, maybe it can help politicians live and breathe understanding, rather than just talk about it or throw handcuffs at it. And it just might lure into Parliament, the bright, empathetic, forward-looking individuals of strong honourable character, who we need and who want to contribute to society, and see politics as one means to do so.