When I was a kid there were plenty of times when I was afraid to go to school. Like so many other children, adults, people of colour, different sexual orientation and even the eccentric…I was bullied.
For the most part it wasn't anything more than the usual schoolyard taunts and jokes.
One of my earliest memories is being called "Toad" on occasion. It seems trivial now, but in elementary school it can consume your life.
What I really feel badly about is that instead of turning the other cheek most of the time I tried to deflect the barrage - so I picked on other kids.
It didn't happen often, because I'd like to think I'm accepting of just about anyone, but when you're nine years old, or (god forbid) a teenager, the last thing you want is a bunch of people pointing a finger at you and laughing.
So when things got really tough, I would pick out a few people in my class, or in the schoolyard, and very quickly get the crowd focused on a different target.
My logic was simple: if someone else is in the cross hairs, then I'm safe.
When I finally grew up (well, let's say I graduated school and got a job) it was something I forgot about until the media and parents began to stand up to bullying.
I started interviewing children and parents who were struggling with bullies at school and work.
Most of the time I sympathized with their plight, because I considered myself a victim.
But I was also a bully on occasion, and should have known at the time how miserable I was making things for some of my classmates.
Thanks to the miracle of social media and Facebook, we've all been able to reconnect with people we haven't seen in years. It took me a couple of days to seek out one fellow in particular that I counted as a school friend, but whom I would also torment when things got tough.
He has a beautiful family, a great job, and (hopefully) has forgotten all about the misery I subjected him to when we were growing up.
I think he has. I apologized to him for all the crap, and hoped he could forgive me. It was so long ago I forget exactly what he said, but I assume it was something akin to "water under the bridge."
I'm not sure I deserve his forgiveness, because I was a real jerk for a while, but I'm happy to have it.
In fact, I would suggest forgiveness is an integral part of the healing process.
Quite often, when we peel back the layers, we find that bullies themselves carry a ton of baggage that has shaped the behaviour they perpetuate.
I'm not suggesting that sentiment should be used as a crutch or excuse, but instead we should look to help all parties when it comes to bullying – those attacked, and others who are spreading the hate.
Later this month we'll all be asked to stand up to the stigma of bullying. Pink Shirt Day will take place Feb. 26 when everyone – young and old – will be asked to wear pink to draw awareness to bullying.
It's great to show such solidarity, but it should certainly last longer than one day.
The work done by local agencies including the police, youth groups and child advocates should be applauded, and if you can spare the time I would urge you to pitch in and help spread the word about how bullying can become a major problem if left unchecked.
On most occasions a bullied person suffers in silence – and at worst, when the pain becomes too much, they lash out at others or hurt themselves.
The same could be said for the bullies, who left unchecked will continue to torment others and won't get the help they sorely need to sort out their issues.
Anti-bullying messages often get confused with a "fight-back" mentality that suggests the attackers need to be punished.
Maybe they do – but some help wouldn’t hurt.