Watching Bully, the documentary from 2011, brought back memories of my childhood and preteen years, as examples of verbal and physical abuse experienced by the different children echoed situations that had happened to me. Certainly, the different children represent different outcomes, severity, and cause-and-effect, but overall, it’s a grim picture of the situations that children continue to face at home, in neighborhoods, and at schools. And too often they are dismissed as “kids being kids” or “part of the process,” when ultimately they have nothing to do with what a child should have to experience before they become an adult.
Lee Hirsch, who directed the doc, experienced bullying, and that drove him to make the movie happen. The Weinstein Company fought hard to make the movie a reality in theaters but language prohibited the way that it was shown (on account of rating). Now, released as a PG-13 movie, it has the opportunity to begin discussions about how kids treat other kids, how adults treat kids, and how schools and communities are able to educate themselves and deal with bullying. The stories are sad, some even tragic, but as Alex says, “I believe in hope.” While the Newtown tragedy and other subsequent school shootings so a dramatic finality to violence in schools, there are less publicized, life-changing situations happening everywhere. And hopefully this retelling of five stories will make a difference.
One dad begs a group of kids to “be the difference,” to stand up for the kid being pushed or to befriend the child standing in the corner. It seems like more adults should get involved in that conversation. How many of us have seen adults bullying each other? It happens in corporate offices, at dinner parties, and at sporting events. And our kids are watching how we treat each other even if we don’t realize it. We’re setting an example, whether its for verbal and physical violence, or for harmony and togetherness. It’s set in our public policy, in our educational system, and in our day to day interactions.
In the documentary, some of the children discuss or opt for violence on their own behalf, noting that it’s easier to bully than be bullied. My story of bullying includes that route: I’ll always remember how I bullied another kid at school while I was being bullied at the bus stop. My desire to control my own situation resulted in my taking control in a negative way in a different situation. I had to work through that, to make it right with the kid I bullied, and to deal appropriately with how I was being treated.
Years later, bullied and threatened at a summer job in college, I found myself facing the same options. I chose to stay and face it, and in this case, the bullies backed down. But I was a grown man, not a still-developing teenager, outweighed and outsmarted by someone else. My faith informed my decision, but the decision was still mine to make.
Now, it’s up to me to set that example with my children, my church, my community. It’s how I interact with kids in the community, how I treat my wife, how I make decisions when disagreements rise up at work, and what I work toward as a member of the school system and community. We can educate, we can lecture, we can debate. We can instruct our kids. But until we show them, until they see that this way can be better, then what will really change?
Maybe Newtown violence, Chicago violence, Phoenix violence, still happen if we end bullying. But maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s up to us to take a good long look in the mirror and end bullying in our own lives. As the film says, “everything starts with one.”