Over the years I’ve wondered why I’m so hell bent on putting a stop to bullying. Like most normal people, I feel really sad imagining a child being bullied; it’s just so hard to feel unwelcome, alone, and hurt. Thinking about a kid deciding that life is not worth living because they’re facing such unrelenting pain is just too heartbreaking to consider. I really, like, really care about the kids in the world. So, I’ve pretty much made it my mission to save young lives (even one in my lifetime will do) and I do it through dramatic play about bullying, and it makes a difference. Yet still…why am I such an expert on the subject?

Growing up, I lived in an impeccably clean home with a mother who was incredibly unhappy. She moved through life within those walls feeling annoyed, anxious, and incredibly obsessed with cleaning. The personable person she showed to the world was in sharp contrast to the one my sisters and I experienced at home. My mother was not empowered; she didn’t enjoy life to its fullest. Working on herself was not her thing. She was unhappy, and I believe, clinically depressed (although undiagnosed – those days nobody talked about mental health). So, my sisters and I experienced her ‘home’ character and it hurt.

My mum yelled. Every day. She’d stand over me in my room, yelling for what felt like hours. Yelled about cleaning, about my attitude, about how I’m a terrible daughter. Daily. I’d sit there and do my best not to yell back, but I didn’t always succeed. I felt bullied by my mum. Then, as I grew, I turned the tables on her and managed to bully her. Some of the things I’d say to my mum I wouldn’t dare utter to a stranger. I’d wind up feeling bad, oscillating between guilt and defensiveness – I mean, it was her fault that I was this way! I packed these feelings and brought them to school with me.

I bullied kids and at times, I was bullied too. I still don’t understand it but in grade 6 my friends and I would habitually gang up on someone in our little group. Every week, we’d choose a different person from our group, and then we’d make the week absolute hell for them. Some people experienced multiple weeks depending on how annoying they were, thus deserving more of our exclusion and cruelty. I remember one day in particular which changed it all for me. Robin was frequently our target – her hands shook (she was nervous) and she was also a know-it-all (annoying!). So, she was bullied more than most of us. One spring day, during recess, our group was outside playing, jumping over the muddy puddles. We grabbed Robin and started spinning her around by her new white scarf with its cute pompons. She was yelling and shaking and we were unrelenting, screaming and laughing as we went round and round, faster and faster. Suddenly, her scarf gave to the pressure and pompoms went flying everywhere – one landing in a particularly dirty puddle which I can clearly see in my mind’s eye. We all gasped and ran, leaving Robin alone, shaking and crying.

Little did I know but that ‘pompom incident’ would change the course of my life. That night, I couldn’t shake the pitiful image of the pompom in the dirty water. We were so hurtful! My heart started to ache for Robin, and I began to cry. What kind of a person had I become? Why was I so mean to someone who didn’t deserve this kind of treatment? After all, Robin was my friend! Why did the group have such power over me? I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror, wondering why I was so mean. At that moment I vowed that moving forward, I would be better than that. I’d value my own friendships over the influence and power of the group. I’d treat Robin, with more respect – and begin by apologizing (which I did the next day).

Everything changed after that. I didn’t become a perfect kid but I was more accountable for my actions. Hurting others would not ease my pain – it would intensify it. I couldn’t change my mother, but I could change myself! I’d say that’s when my interest in human behaviour and anti-bullying really began. Without those life experiences, I’d never be doing the work I do. We are who we are because of what we go through, not despite it. Isn’t it interesting how powerful a sad, white pompom in a muddy puddle can still have over a grown woman’s life?

Jodi Derkson, founder, Imperative Education

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