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A Story of Darkness and Light

January 3rd, 2021 - A while ago I remember reading an article about a comedian, Chris Rock, and how he essentially said that bullying was a good thing for him and that people should get bullied to succeed in life. I was simply appalled. Studies have shown that young people who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, have difficulty sleeping at night, and drop out of school2. And students who experience bullying or cyberbullying are twice as likely to commit suicide. I don’t think this is funny at all.

The article said that bullying is good if there is love to shelter the individual. But how can you guarantee that? How can you gamble with a person’s life? All throughout middle school, I was bullied. I would get called names and be physically pushed and shoved around by my own classmates. I got laughed at for studying and doing well in my classes. This got so bad that, in Grade 8, when I received my school’s Principal’s List award for achieving an overall average above 90% – the first student at my middle school to do so – I felt ashamed. I felt like I did something wrong, something that people around me did not approve of.

This feeling of shame carried on with me to high school – my parents and I moved to a new place in Toronto so that I could attend high school in another community. I studied hard in my classes as I usually would, but I wasn’t sure whether I was doing the right thing. But then, something different happened. At our end-of-year academic awards ceremony, when I was recognized for achieving the top mark in Academic French and Physical Education in my grade, my teachers and classmates clapped for me. I received words of congratulation from my peers, who were truly happy for me. This was when I realized that the bullies were wrong, and that I didn’t have to hide myself away anymore. I had found a sanctuary within my new high school community, a place where I could be protected and grow strong.

But the trauma stayed. I would often think back to the days when I was bullied, how helpless and nervous I was, and I would fall silent. I thought about how it may have turned out if I had continued to be bullied throughout high school – would I still be alive right now? I think we are all aware to a certain degree that there is a darkness around and within us. But what I think is more important, is that we know our choices can make all the difference. A student can choose to bully or not. A friend can choose to help or not. A parent can choose to step in or not. A teacher can choose to turn a blind eye or not. As a community, it is our choices that matter.

Photo by Ilayza Macayan on Unsplash

But bullying is not a “kids problem” – I even see colleagues at my work setting being harassed by their co-workers. You know what is truly shameful? When an adult doesn’t realize the far-reaching and potentially fatal consequences of their words and actions on their peers.

Surviving bullying might make a person stronger, but people can still become strong without being subjected to arguably one of the most traumatizing experiences in life. No matter what form of bullying it is – whether it’s verbal bullying, physical bullying, cyber bullying or some other form – it is wrong. Now I am doing my PhD at the University of Toronto and was awarded the top doctoral prize in the country, the Vanier Scholarship – the first student in my department to hold the scholarship. Now, I am strong enough to protect myself in my workplace, but it could have been over for me a long time ago. So believe me when I say that I do not owe it to bullying.

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