Recently I stumbled across a movie based on actual events entitled Joe Bell.[i] It tells of a man (Joe Bell) who decides to walk across America on a campaign to tell the harms from bullying. But, unfortunately, classmates repeatedly bullied Joe Bell’s son, Jadin, because he was gay. And that bullying was one of the significant factors that led to Jadin’s death by suicide. Here is a scene from the movie, along with the trailer for the film:
As I watched that movie, my mind flashed back to two experiences growing up. When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher selected me to be part of the safety patrol. That meant we helped fellow students, especially the younger ones, cross one of the school’s busy streets. As a reward for our service, the school district invited all the safety patrol members to go on a field trip to a University of Utah football game. After the game, we took a bus back to the elementary school. Upon our arrival, I got my first taste of bullying. Unfortunately, I was one of the guys doing the bullying.
As we got off the bus, one of my friends thought we could have some fun with one of the girls. I will call her Susan. For some reason, he told us to prevent Susan from walking home. And I followed his directions. So, we surrounded Susan and blocked her repeated attempts to leave the school grounds. At one point, after perhaps ten or 15 minutes of our false imprisonment, Susan made a break for it. She got past our circle and raced to the fence separating the school playground from the street. Of course, all the guys chased her. Susan finally escaped our torment by scrambling under the fence and running home.
We thought it was all in good fun, but Susan understandably did not. She told her parents about it, and a few minutes later, her dad drove up to us as we walked home. He loaded us in his car and took us back to his house, where he lectured us on the harm of bullying and made us apologize to his daughter, who was still in tears. Until then, it hadn’t even entered my mind that I might be participating in bullying. It was a wake-up lesson for me. I saw how easy it was to follow the crowd and do something unkind. Sadly, I didn’t learn very well.
The following year, a young woman I will call Barbara decided she liked me. We had an English class together, and Barbara began passing me notes. Since I had no romantic interest in her, I never responded. We had an after-school dance soon after that, and I danced with several girls, but I never asked Barbara to dance even though she stood close to some of the other girls I had danced with. So, the next day at school, she passed me a note stating how hurt she was that I had not asked her to dance. I finally decided to write Barbara a letter to let her know I was not romantically interested in her.
I then made a mistake I have long since regretted. I asked two friends to help me write it. Under the influence of these friends, I wrote a hurtful note. Essentially, I told Barbara I was not interested in being her boyfriend because I would have been embarrassed to have a girlfriend as ugly as she was. Ouch! I later heard from one of her friends how surprised Barbara was that I had been so mean. I apologized to Barbara through her friend, throwing my two friends under the bus for the mean language of the note. That indirect apology seemed to help some, but I could tell, watching Barbara in class, that I had hurt her badly. Barbara moved the following year. I often wished that she hadn’t moved so I could have apologized to her face-to-face.
Technically, the two incidences I related above do not meet the government’s definition of bullying because each was a one-time event. But I doubt that would make either girl feel better about what they experienced. The federal definition of bullying has three components:
- Unwanted aggressive behavior;
- An observed or perceived power imbalance; and
- Repetition or high likelihood of recurrence of the bullying behavior.
Admittedly, my two bullying experiences were relatively tame. I hope my actions had no lasting impact on either Susan or Barbara. But some victims of bullying are not so lucky. Research shows that bullying affects the bullied youths, those doing the bullying, and those witnessing it. Often, the adverse effects of bullying continue into adulthood.
The National Center for Educational Statistics found that about 22 percent of youth ages 12 through 18 have been victims of bullying. In addition, about 15 percent were victims of cyberbullying. And 70 percent of LGBTQIA youth say they have been bullied.
The documentary, Audrie and Daisy,[ii] tells the story of two young women who experienced a different form of bullying—sexual assault. Unfortunately, Audrie’s bullying went even further, as another boy video recorded the assault and posted it on the internet. Even though the sexual assault occurred only once, to Audrie, it felt like her attacker repeatedly assaulted her every time someone watched the video. But law enforcement didn’t help Audrie much when they granted her abuser probation.
Daisy’s story is similar, although no internet abuse occurred. Unfortunately, neither Audrie nor Daisy could overcome their abuse, and both eventually died by suicide. In Daisy’s case, four months after Daisy killed herself, her mother also died by suicide. Daisy’s brother had died earlier in an automobile accident, and the deaths of her two children were too much for Daisy’s mother. Here is a collage of scenes from the documentary:
The film, A Girl Like Her,[iii] is not based on actual events, but the tagline says it well: “Based on a million true stories.” In this movie, Avery constantly bullies Jessica, who used to be her best friend. Finally, with the help of her friend, Brian, Jessica secretly begins video recording Avery’s bullying. Avery must face the truth with the evidence on camera, but it might be too late for Jessica, as she lies in a coma following a suicide attempt. Here is a collage of scenes from the film:
The causes of death by suicide are always complex, and we should never assume a death by suicide is solely the result of bullying. But it could be. And A Girl Like Her raises an interesting point. We mainly focus on the victims of bullying, who undoubtedly need our help. But often, the persons doing the bullying need our help, too. Here is another scene from the film:
As Rodney King famously once said, “People, I just want to say, can’t we all get along?” Perhaps Dr. Wayne Dyer said it best: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
As we start a new year, I hope kindness can be our primary focus—for the victim of bullying, the bullier, and all those affected by such acts of unkindness. Kindness is always better than bullying.
[i] Joe Bell:
- Production Companies: Argent Pictures, Closest to the Hole Productions, and Endeavor Content
- Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
- Screenwriters: Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry
- Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, and Connie Britton
- Release date: July 23, 2021
[ii] Audrie and Daisy:
- Directors: Bonni Cohen and Jon Schenk
- Starring: Robin Bourland, Daisy Coleman, and Charles Coleman
- Release date: September 23, 2016
[iii] A Girl Like Her:
- Production Companies: Radish Creative Group, Bottom Line Entertainment, and Parkside Pictures
- Director: Amy S. Weber
- Screenwriter: Amyh S. Weber
- Starring: Lexi Ainsworth, Hunter King, Jimmy Bennett
- Release date: March 27, 2015