When I was in elementary school one of the kids regarded as “tough” threatened to beat me up.
I was frightened, mainly because I hadn’t done anything to him, possibly never even spoken to or about him.
One day “after four”, as we used to say, I was walking home when my tormentor wheeled up on his bike. My short life flashed before my eyes. But, instead of knocking my little block off, he wanted to know if I would make model airplanes with him. Thus began a strange acquaintance in which the two of us didn’t so much like each other as respect one another’s abilities – I got mostly A’s on my report cards, he was the undisputed flyweight champion of Lakefield, Ontario.
Compared to what I see these days in news reports, I got off lightly.
Bullying has become a much more widespread phenomenon...with sometimes deadly results.
Teachers are still called on to break up schoolyard scraps, but face-to-face encounters are no longer required for bullies to wreak their havoc, so they are no longer necessarily nasty people with big fists. The only physical exertion required to intimidate victims in 2012 is the strength it takes to execute a computer keystroke.
It seems that everyone these days is walking around with a cell phone that doubles as a camera. That, combined with the instant gratification offered by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter platforms, provides all the ingredients required to cause a victim embarrassment, sometimes driving them to the point of suicide.
There is some irony in the fact that privacy laws can prevent the sharing of seemingly harmless information at a time when people can wake up the morning after a party and find photos of themselves half-naked on a stranger’s Facebook page.
Computer use has not only expanded the damage that can be caused by bullies; it has also extended their longevity. The worst culprits are no longer necessarily school-age. Police forces are responding to calls from victims of online abuse that can take the form of threats or intimidation.
Parental oversight of their children’s online activities is far more likely to be effective than legislation in reducing such Internet hazards as harassment or sexual predation.
Perhaps the worst sort of bullying is racism, a social blight that has benefitted from the speed and anonymity available through electronic communication channels.
Mass media organizations, presumably dedicated to promoting high standards of civil discourse, have actually contributed to the prevalence of racist commentary by providing anonymous opportunities for readers to comment on stories. At the same time as they generally refuse to publish unsigned letters in their print editions, newspapers routinely allow discussion free-for-alls on their websites.
Whether the subject of grotesque team mascots and logos or ill-informed comments about our treaty rights to fish and be exempt from certain taxes, First Nations are considered fair game to be on the receiving end of public insults.
Earlier this year the publisher of the Globe and Mail responded to my complaint about a website comment by admitting it was racist, but that it had been removed “pretty quickly.” The editor of the Sudbury Star says he had to adopt a policy to ban website comments about stories on First Nations topics because they usually deteriorate into racist remarks within minutes.
It’s a shame that we live in a world that makes it easier for bullies to do their dirty work.
At least when someone throws a punch at you in person you have a chance to duck.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.