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Bullying is everyone’s problem

Casualties are far too real, and everyone (including workplaces) have a role to play in putting a stop to it

By Todd Humber

When the Ontario government started discussing Bill 168, the workplace harassment and violence legislation that came into force last year, employers across the province let out a collective groan.

“Great. Just what we need — more legislation to comply with.”

But the passing of the law sent a powerful message about bullying. By putting it on the corporate agenda, and attaching liability to it, employers were forced to take it seriously and be proactive about addressing it. That sends a strong signal to all corners of society.

Whenever the topic of bullying arises, it’s hard not to think of Calvin, the protagonist of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Cartoonist Bill Watterson created a magical world for Calvin and his stuffed tiger to trounce around. Yet even in that world, the dark cloud of bullying appeared.

Moe, the schoolyard bully, made countless appearances in the strip. What always struck me is that Calvin did absolutely nothing to antagonize Moe. He would just suddenly appear as a menace, demanding Calvin’s lunch money among other things.

That sums up bullying perfectly — there’s no logic behind it, no rhyme or reason. That’s why it’s so hard to stamp out.

There have been countless stories in the media recently about teenagers who have committed suicide because of bullying. The stories are as numerous as they are heartbreaking:

•Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville, N.Y., complained he had been viciously abused after talking online about being confused about his sexuality. He even recorded a message for the “It Gets Better” campaign, where young gay people encourage each other to remain hopeful through tough times. He killed himself in September.

•Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy from Pickering, Ont., with muscular dystrophy was bullied and robbed by a student. His face and teeth were smashed when the bully pushed him into the pavement and stole his iPhone. He killed himself in September.

•Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old boy from Ottawa and the son of a city councillor, killed himself this week. Hubley was a talented figure skater, and was getting into singing and acting. Hubley’s father said Jamie has been picked on relentlessly, was mocked because he chose figure skating over hockey and because he tried to start a Rainbow Club at his high school to promote acceptance of others.

Those are just a handful of the stories. In the Oct. 10 issue of Sports Illustrated, Michael Rosenberg wrote about a story involving DeSean Jackson, a football player for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson, for those who don’t know him, is about as brash as they come and probably the last person you’d pick as a poster child for anti-bullying campaign.

Yet he was so touched by the story of a 13-year-old boy in Philly who had been tormented that he picked up the mantle and is preaching the anti-bully message.

The boy, Nadin Khoury, had been tormented for a long time. But last year, the bullies took it to a new level.

“They kicked him and punched him and dragged him through the snow,” wrote Rosenberg. “They hoisted him into a tree and hung him from his jacket on an iron fence.”

But Khoury stood up for himself. He told his mother, who went to the police who went to the school board. Khoury’s favourite athlete is Jackson, and when Jackson found about what happened, it hit a chord with him.

“I wanted to go help him and stand up for him,” said Jackson. “In this world, a lot of people get bullied.”

Jackson is speaking often in public about bullying, and he’s targeting three groups: victims, bullies and those who stand by and do nothing. That encompasses all of us.

But bullying is far more than a schoolyard problem. The workplace bullying stories aren’t as prevalent in the media, but they’re just as real.

We all know the toll bullying takes on the bottom line. It hurts productivity, absenteeism, morale and engagement. It’s a cancer than can destroy a good corporate culture.

It needs to be stamped out at every level of society. It’s not easy, but that’s no excuse for not trying. Legislation, like Bill 168, is onerous and puts a significant responsibility on employers. But the more moves we take to stamp it out, the more likely it will trickle throughout society to teach everyone bullying isn’t acceptable behaviour.

It’s the least we could do for the growing list of children we’ve lost for no good reason, and to prevent similar stories from appearing in the news in the future.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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