I don't consider myself a bad person, but unfortunately, I can't say that I always was proud of myself.
I'm not sure how it happened and what was guiding me, but in my school days there were a few times that saw me on the mean side. I wasn't the one who would start the fights or who would generate the bullying campaigns, but I didn't end them either. And there were a couple of situations where I was among those bullying other kids.
Up to this day, I feel ashamed of myself, my attitude and my reactions. Even though later I apologized for my behaviour and we actually became good buddies with one of the girls my friends and I used to pick on back in high school, I still feel bad. There was no need for it and no reason to be the way we were. The kids that were bullied were quiet. And we were aimlessly mean.
I don't think I had any reasons to be unkind, but I was. And I sincerely regret it.
I thought a lot about what made us choose other human beings as our targets, and why we needed to have targets, to begin with. There are several different social and psychological causes that turn kids into bullies. Sometimes it makes them feel stronger. In some cases, they are bullied at home, and they return it at school. In other cases, it's just copying others' behaviour. Jealousy can also lead to bullying. It can be a protection mechanism that keeps others from bullying you.
I think in my case it was just hanging out with "the right crowd." Once we grew up, it turned out that none of us was a moron. We all turned into responsible, kind and caring individuals, often putting others' interests before our own.
So what was going wrong with us in high school?
Last week I was honoured to interview Estevan Diversified Services participants – big anti-bullying advocates and supporters of Pink Shirt Day. Many of them know first-hand what it feels like to be bullied, and they stand up for others to make sure that bullying turns into an unacceptable relic.
When I talked to them I could feel their strength and passion, I saw that they cared about the cause and they knew how important it was to do as much as they can to make sure that they are there for others; that they are there, so others being bullied feel safe and strong enough to say, that it's not okay.
And when over 20 people told me that they were wearing pink on Pink Shirt Day for others, I thought that maybe that's what it was...
The system I grew up in didn't see bullying as something bad or out of order. When we did what we did, there was nobody to tell us it was wrong or right, or even slow us down and make us think. Kids were called to the principal's office for smoking in the bathroom, but not for creating problems for their classmates (I learned after we graduated that our teacher knew everything that was going on, but in most cases, she allowed us to learn our lessons at our own pace). Nobody stood up for kids being bullied and told us to stop, so we continued to explore the world and the strings of relationships in it the way we knew.
I don't mean to justify my behaviour, but I'm glad to see that the social conscience has changed since those times. It seems that over the past 10-15 years, bullying, often pictured as a high school norm in movies and novels, has lost its strength and turned into an occasional rather than systematic problem.
Unfortunately, through my own mistakes and by making someone else feel bad, after all I learned that while the law of the jungles often instinctively takes over, it is not relevant in the world we built in the 21st century.
Almost 20 years later, I still feel ashamed of myself for behaving the way I did. Unfortunately, there is no way to rewrite the past. But at least I know what to teach my kids one day.
And maybe, it was that ugly experience, that abuse of privilege I had that motivated me to choose the peace and conflict university program later in life. And the understanding of how something that can be used to empower others is often used for the opposite, turning the world around into a battlefield, this first-hand knowledge made me reconsider my actions and priorities and later made me care more about others later in life.