Monday, October 15, 2012

An Untitled Post About Bullying


With bullying front and center in the news after Amanda Todd's tragic suicide I found myself reflecting on my personal experiences on the subject. I certainly wasn't the victim of persistent bullying, but there are a few incidents that have stuck in my mind:

  • In grade 4 an older kid (a grade 5) kicked my lunch box down the street. My dad took me over to his house and had a chat with his father and he apologized. I'm now friends with him on Facebook and he's since apologized for real.
  • In grade 8, I had a disagreement with a girl in my class and she got excessively angry with me and starting slapping me and punching me and what-have-you. Having been raised to never, under any circumstances, ever hit a girl, I just took it. Later that afternoon my teacher made a snide remark about me getting beat up by a girl in front of the whole class. To this day I don't know if I said it or if it was something I thought I ought to have said, but the phrase "What would you have done if had I hit her back?" keeps popping into my head. The girl and I became friends days later and today we chat occasionally on Facebook.
  • In grade 9 the older brother of a girl in my grade (and who was on my paper route) shoved me in a locker. Well, he tried. I pulled the old cat trying to avoid a bath trick and never made it in. That didn't stop word from spreading that I actually had been shoved in though. Who were people going to believe, a grade 9 geek or a grade 12 punk? Facebook status for her: not friends but would friend. As for her brother, we're not Facebook friends now and not ever likely to be.
  • One of my friends in high school dated a bully for a couple years. He liked to assert his masculinity by pushing me around and threatening me. I suspect it was because he was insecure in his relationship, and as a person in general. I'm still friends with the girl (yes, on Facebook too). I don't care to ever be Facebook friends with the guy.
And then there was the time I was walking into a hockey rink and was punched by someone for allegedly "smiling at him". Turns out a local gang was hanging out there and we're looking for trouble. Before I knew it a pack of them had shoved me into an empty change room and were laying the boots to me. Boots and fists... and elbows... and knees, though I remember only one knee - the one that, as my head was being pushed down, came up and caught me right in the face. After that, it was all a blur of Doc Martin's and Air Jordan's and the taste of blood. They say you can't actually remember the feeling of pain, but I sure remember what I was feeling.

Despite the arena manager and first responding officer telling me that I shouldn't pursue action for fear of retribution, I pursued action. They caught 3 of the guys and two plead out and got something like 6 months probation. The "ring leader" got 2 years probation and a whole lot of other conditions like curfew and restraining order limiting his distance from me and so forth. After what I went through, let's just say I wasn't the biggest fan of the Young Offenders Act.

Today, even as I typed that last paragraph, my teeth clenched and I felt panic in my chest - and this all happened over 20 years ago.

Twenty years is a long time to be carrying around that memory, but it's impossible to forget. Trust me, I've tried, but then something happens and I hear about it in the news and there it is again. Sometimes, and this is one that I'm having a hard time explaining, sometimes the reminder comes in a much less subtle way and hits me like a knee to the face.

Yesterday I found myself in Toronto helping out an old high school acquaintance by doing a bit of work as an unpaid extra in a music video he's producing. A couple other guys from the old neighborhood were there too:

  1. The step son of my grade 8 teacher. 
  2. A guy who was there that night I was attacked.
The step son of my grade 8 teacher is a year older than me but we went to the same high school and know a lot of the same people. It was nice talking to him and he and I actually made quite an impression on the crew during the shoot. We're friends on Facebook now.

The other guy, I had been talking to him for a couple hours as we waited for our scene to come up and when talk turned to other people from the neighborhood I mentioned the names of the "ring leader" and two other guys - only I got the name wrong. He looked at me, and confessed that he was there that night and knew those involved.

I have picked through my thesaurus and still can't come up with a single word that adequately describes what I was feeling. 

Today he's an everyday guy living a life any one of us could have had. He went to shoot his scene and I never really saw him after that. The producer posted that pic above on Facebook and he "liked" it. I'm currently undecided if I would accept his friend request should he ever send me one, though I'm leaning towards no.

The stylist overheard some of the conversation at one point as the other guy and I were talking with the producer and she asked me how I felt, what I was thinking... I'll be honest with you, I am not at all proud about what I said and even less proud about what I thought. The rest of the day, the drive home, most of last night, many hours in bed, and a good part of today I have been trying to reconcile my feelings on all this. Thankfully, I think I have.

You see, I am a firm believer that the world would be a better place if more people were happy. I genuinely want the people around me, in my community, to be happy. On a very basic level it would make the simple act of leaving the house that much more enjoyable. As such, I have put myself on a path that includes finding ways to be happy, and have those around me be happy as well. In collaboration with, and never at the expense of others.

For 20 years I have felt that my attackers took something from me, and that they should pay. For as long as I felt pain, they should feel misery, hurt, and despair 100 times over. This is just a taste of some of the thoughts that have gone through my head as recently as this morning, and I'm ashamed for having them. Just sticking to the path I have chosen should be enough. 

It is enough.

If the people that kicked the crap out of me for no reason have put themselves on a similar path then I am pleased. If they haven't, well then they're going to reap what they sow eventually. The Universe has a way of balancing itself out, and karma has a way of kicking your ass worse than any human ever could.

Today I have two hopes and one wish.

My first hope is that a kid being bullied reads this and talks to someone about what they're going through, and talks to as many people as they have to until someone listens. My second hope is that they won't have to talk to more than one. I was 0 for 2 on help that night, but the next person listened, and so did the person after that, and the person after that. 

You are not alone.

My wish is that at least one bully reads this and decides to choose a different path. The world can always use one more happy person and if they choose the right path the world will get at least two.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Controversy? Just Sweep it Over There Under the Rug

Well, after a bit of noise on this topic this summer things pretty much quieted down - until yesterday. FIFA announced yesterday that Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair would receive and undisclosed fine and a 4 international game suspension for her comments after the Canadian semi-final loss at the Olympics this summer.

I for one think that this punishment [if you can call it that] sends the following message: "We are not going to let you get away with lobbing accusations at our officials, however, since we're not prepared to discuss if there was any truth to your allegations here's your slap on the wrist. Now everyone just stop talking about it."


I know of at least one person who feels that Ms. Sinclair should be banished from soccer for life. He calls what was said "defamation". Well, sir, it's only defamation if what was said was untrue and in this case the waters appear cloudy enough that you're going to have a hard rime proving that Christine's comments were completely unfounded.


The official had been making questionable calls throughout the game and the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back - the call that referee Christiana Pedersen made that resulted in the kick that led to the tying goal - was so out of place that soccer fans and commentators had to struggle to find a case of that particular infraction having been called before. That's an inconsistency that happened to occur at a crucial moment in a game, and Ms. Sinclair knew it. Everyone playing knew it, and everyone watching knew it. FIFA and the IOC knew it. The Americans definitely knew it. 


In fact, one American player admitted afterwards she had been attempting to influence the referee the whole game. All Christine Sinclair - and many of the other Canadian players - did was call bullshit (and rightly so, in this writer's opinion).

One thing I do know is that having played a number of officiated team sports at various levels there has always been a saying that, when found to be true, seemed to result in optimal results for both competing teams:


You know you had good referees when you can't remember if they were there.

There are also a few other applicable phrases that come to mind:

Just let 'em play
Commonly used in hockey to indicate that it would be best if the teams were left to their own devices to decide an outcome. This usually results in minor infractions on both sides being ignored and the pace of the game being unusually high. This approach runs the risk that one side will attempt to take advantage of the loose rules, but more often than not it just creates an atmosphere where the players truly decide the outcome.


A strike in the 1st inning should be a strike in the bottom of the 9th
A baseball reference indicating that an umpire sets the tone for the game by calling balls and strikes a certain way - and remains consistent. Upsetting this consistency results in controversy later in the game when something that's been called a strike all game suddenly becomes a ball. The manager's punishment for arguing this usually results in an ejection ("getting tossed") and lots and lots of yelling.


A penalty in the 1st period is a penalty in overtime
A corollary to the aforementioned baseball saying. If a hockey referee calls a penalty early in the game, but doesn't maintain consistency, this results in confusion among the players as to what is acceptable and what is not, and in both my examples ultimately allows the official to have more control over the outcome.


There's a hierarchy for all officials in all sports at all levels. You'll often hear sportscasters talk about it before important games. "This is so-and-so's 5th Stanley Cup Final appearance" or "So-and-so has worked hard for the last few years and deserves to be officiating in his first playoff game". Officials work their way up the ladder and the best ones get the important games. Referees at that level, for those games, should simply be better than the rest. Not infallible, but certainly the cream of the crop. 


An official should never decide a game, especially one of magnitude, and that's exactly what happened this past summer.


Now, I wouldn't say that this controversy is anything close to what the NHL had to deal with back in 1999 with the whole toe-in-the-crease incident, but it's in the same ballpark and I'm afraid that the comments and decisions that have come down are as good as it is going to get for either side. 


~afb~