The room froze, every eye was on me. In the little theatre in Simcoe we are coming near the end of the workshop on bullying and teasing. It's going well, probably over 90% of those there have participated actively by getting up and coming to the front at least once. There are always a few hold outs, a few who just don't want to be in front of a crowd. I ask twice, then leave them alone. One fellow, about 40, struggled with the decision and then told me that he didn't want to come up. I saw that it had been a difficult decision and then made a decision myself, I'd not ask him again - no means no.
These workshops are exhausting and I begin to glance at my watch, there's only 10 or 16 minutes to go, I need to start bringing it to a close. Then the 40 year old guy gets up and leaves the room to go to the washroom. On his way back down to his seat, someone calls out, "Chicken!". I could see, in an instant, that he was stung by this word. I was simply furious inside. Good God, this workshop was about teasing and bullying and here it is happening right in front of me.
They all wanted to know what I was going to do. This has never happened in a workshop, I wasn't sure what I would do. It's not like I had any time to sit down and think it through I had to respond to what just happened. First things first ... I spoke to the man who had been teased. "I'm really sorry that happened to you, this should have been a safe place for you. Being called a name really hurts." Everyone nods because everyone knows.
Forget the name caller, I decide, at this point she isn't the point. Bullies are never really the point. For the second time in the workshop the room grows very quiet. Hushed. "It's always wrong for someone to call someone else a mean name, isn't it?" The rapid nodding of heads caused a slight breeze. They all know this, Everyone knows. "Why is it more wrong here, today?"
"Because we just learned about bullies!" calls out a confident voice.
"Because only mean people call names!" calls out another.
"How many people here have been called a name?" One hundred percent of the room raises their hands. "Look around," I say, "everyone has been called a name."
"Oh, I get it," a young woman says, "We should know better because we know it hurts."
"Yes," I said, "we have no excuses. We should all be nice to each other because people out there aren't always nice to us." For the next several minutes we talked about community, about taking care of each other, having each other's back ... 'he ain't heavy, he's my brother' kind of stuff.
Shortly after it's over she apologizes to me for having called a name. I look at her coldly, "It's not me you need to apologize to."
Tears form in her eyes as she leaves. I want to comfort her for a second, but more than that I want her to remember this feeling.
So I don't.