Each year my friend and I co-facilitate an intense anti bullying program at the high school we work in.  It is by far one of my favorite programs I am a part of because of its depth, power and perspective changing potential.  After hours of training, a handful of students are chosen to share their personal stories as the victim of bullying, the bystander or the bully to an entire class of the student body.  The victim stories are notoriously heart wrenching and motivate others to share their stories when given the opportunity.  It is indeed a powerful experience and eye opening to what today’s youth are dealing with when no one else is looking and when everyone is looking.  This year’s group of upperclassmen who shared their stories were incredibly strong and amazing, but the one I held on to the most was the story of the “bully.” A young man who chose to identify his wrongs and make them right.  I loved it so much I wanted to share it with you as an example of how some of today’s adolescents are seeing the world and what they are doing about it. This is what this brave young man nervously shared with almost 400 hundred members of his school community.

“A wise woman once told me “It is equally important to know when you are doing the wrong things in life as it is to know when you are doing the right things, so you can determine the difference.” When it comes to bullying I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, the bully and the victim, both of which make you feel horrible.

From the beginning of eighth grade: whether it was picking on other kids to feel cool or just because I didn’t like how they were, what they looked like, who they hung out with, what race they were, or even what their sexuality was, I had absolutely no fear of being a bully to kids.

Then high school came and it was freshmen year, and I was instantly intimidated. There were kids double my size, with absolutely no fear of pushing me around calling me all types of names, threatening me and just being a mean upperclassmen to a freshmen. When it came to the kids in my grade, still I had absolutely no fear, of what my words and actions meant to them. I was a freshman punk, fifteen years old and thinking I was the man just because I was in high school.

It was third period English class, I walked in like I was the man, the same as I do everyday, and there was this one kid, who I never talked to before in my entire life, a kid who has never done me wrong and a kid who was considered to be “different” then everyone else because of who he is and that he is gay. When I first heard that he was gay I was appalled. A teenager who was gay! No way could this be real right now, and the worst part was that I thought it was hilarious. I never really accepted the fact of people being gay at this point in my life even though I have an uncle who is gay. This shows just how shallow I really was at this point in my life. I instantly despised people who were gay because my mindset was that being gay wasn’t even an option, and now that I knew that he’s gay there was no way I could ever be associated with him; I mean he’s gay, so me being friends with him would make me gay right? Well it doesn’t, but being that young and immature in life I didn’t know what to do so I resorted to what I was best at, being an asshole. Almost everyday for the whole year, third period English class was war.

Any time he would talk, anytime he would do something I would try to attack him and make him feel horrible about himself. I was bullying some kid that I never knew before this year because of one lifestyle difference between the two of us. He and I would argue about anything. If he would talk I’d say to him, “shut the hell up”, and if I wasn’t proving to him that I didn’t care for him, I was making it very obvious to others around me. I’d say to my other friends “what a faggot” or make fun of the fact that he was gay and say things like “oh yeah homo” and I remember saying things like this to his face. I’ve said phrases that no one should ever say to another person.  Even with the fact of a jerk like me harassing him all the time because of one difference, he would still try to respond and come back at me to show me that he wasn’t being affected by it, and that angered me. All I wanted to do was to make him feel like hell, why wouldn’t he? Because he’s stronger then me mentally and emotionally, because he was frustrated with the fact that people would judge him just because of his sexuality. I would attempt to say something to him just to get him so upset to the point where he wouldn’t want to talk to me because I said something that hurtful or mean or frustrating to him.

Now I look back at eighth grade through sophomore year and I look at how I’ve grown now and reliving that and how I treated him along with others makes me feel like a horrible person. It makes me feel like I don’t deserve respect because I didn’t give kids any respect at all in those three years. It makes me realize how pathetic of a person I was and to be honest, people really have to try to make someone feel that horrible about themselves just because of one difference between him and I. I live with the guilt now of knowing I was this much of an asshole to this one kid just so I could ruin his day to make mine but I failed every day at that one task, the one task that I thrived at. There is absolutely nothing worse then living with this, then dealing with the fact that every time I see him in the hall I want to apologize but I’m way to scared to because I don’t know what he thinks of me. I deal with the fact that I actually have to hold back my emotions when I see him because I regret everything I’ve ever said to him or done to him and I am honestly embarrassed with how I was as a person. Who you’re attracted to isn’t something a person can control and it’s something we have to accept and respect. Whether your being the bully or being bullied the end result is something you won’t like. I know for a fact that some people who have been bullied walk away feeling like a completely worthless person and I also know that while being the bully, I felt an instant guilt afterwards, which feels endless to this day. I was a freshman then and I am a junior now and even now it makes me emotional just thinking about how I treated all the kids that I know. As I said before, “It is equally important to know when you are doing the wrong things in life as it is to know when you are doing the right things so you can determine the difference.” The only difference between the two is that to do the right thing and to honestly know what it is takes way more courage and strength as a person then it does to do the wrong thing. I have come to realize what the right things are in life but it took maturity to help realize what they are.

Not a single person here likes to be bullied or be talked down to, so why do it to others? Why do what affects you and makes you feel horrible about yourself to others. If its to be cool, your not. If its cause you have a problem with something about someone else, get over it, you can’t change other people to meet your standards. You have to accept people for who they are and their effort they make in life to be the best they can and to be just like every other teenager, happy.

I know I am not the most perfect person in life, and I know I’ve messed up way more than once and I am not looking for people to feel bad for me. I am looking for people to learn from the mistakes that I made and to not make them. But what I’m also looking for is a second chance from anyone that I’ve inflicted pain to. These mistakes I’ve made, I am not happy about and I am sure as hell not proud of it, but what I am proud of is the fact that its made me into the person that I am today and its helped me come to realize that bullying is an issue not just in our school but every where. No matter what negative thing you say to someone, it will affect them and it definitely should affect your view on yourself. Last year at Power of Words I came up to the open mic and  I apologized to everyone that I’ve ever treated poorly but I don’t think anyone understood the sincerity and the importance of the message I was trying to convey. I messed up and I was an ass, we all know this, but I am growing as a person and I realize that I have wronged many of you as well as others, so I am here to ask others not to make these mistakes and to realize that the power of your words truly do have an affect on others. Lastly, to everyone here, and anyone I’ve ever hurt, I am honestly sorry from the bottom of my heart and I hope everyone knows that I am striving to become the best that I can be.”