Bullying.

I revisit this subject, and this column topic, every year around this time, because every year, a new school session starts and invariably the potential for children abusing other children rises. Even this year, and maybe especially this year, due to covid-19 and the inherent pressures and stresses surrounding it, the potential for kids to lash out and hurt others is heightened.

A couple years back, The Keaton bullying video went viral. It brought tears to my eyes and broke my heart.

As anyone who went to junior high with me knows, I was bullied mercilessly seventh and eighth grade years. I was a skinny, awkward, artsy, goofy kid with messy hair who loved art, writing, comic books, science-fiction, manga, soccer, Dr. Who, David Bowie, Duran Duran and all kinds of other so-called “geek things.” I was poor and had ripped clothes and went to a rich kids’ school. I was pitifully awkward with girls and terribly insecure about my looks. Oddly enough, I was a good athlete but it didn’t help much. I was still too weird to be accepted by anyone but my own clique of nerds and geeks who were also hunted and tormented.

I had little to no support at home or school. The typical response from both was “stop being a wuss” or “that’s what kids do, deal with it” or “it’ll build your character.”

It didn’t build my character. I thought my character was just fine.

It made me learn to hate people and hate myself. It made me angry and depressed. Which is a pretty sad state to be in when you’re only a 12-year-old kid.

Two people helped me. My writing and art teachers. They taught me that my strangeness and my talents were good things and that it was ok to be an outsider. I looked at famous people like David Bowie and Prince and they helped inspire me. They were unique and unapologetic and so I would be the same. To hell with other people. I was going to be me.

Dr. Who, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman and John Lydon inspired me with their humor and the way they reveled in their outsider status in gleeful and fun fashion, and so would I. I was tired of apologizing and trying to fit in because I just couldn’t.

I was a horrible failure at being anything but me.

Fortunately, that’s what I’m best at.

And that’s how I’ve been ever since.

Ironically, the same “geeky crap” that got me tormented ended up being some of the same things that found me my tribes later on in life. The people that really loved me and connected with me.

By senior year of college I was first runner up for homecoming king at a college of 27,000. Me. The skinny little unpopular freak who was called ugly and stupid not that long before.

And I didn’t get there by changing to fit in with other people.

I got there by being myself and not caring about the opinions of others.

So to anyone out there being bullied: Don’t compromise. You’re not the one who needs to change. THEY ARE. To hell with them. You’re beautiful because you’re unique and they’re jealous because they’re afraid to be, or, even worse, deep down they’re scared that they’re not.

To anyone out there who can make a difference in a kid’s life: Do it. Be that person! Be that mentor they need, that I had, that helped save me.

And to creative people: Don’t compromise your vision, be honest and embrace your unique character. Because it’s that honesty and bravery and courage that inspires others and helps us feel less alone.

Having been the bullied, I make sure that now that I’m in the position to be a mentor and a creator, I follow my own advice.

Bullying is not to be accepted nor condoned. It’s a mental and emotional disorder that needs to be eliminated. The false mythology that it’s part of some rite of passage or tied in with some obscene, ridiculous concept of masculinity is perverse and ignorant and needs to be dismissed entirely. There’s no reason for bullying.

There seems to be a common misperception that being against bullying is to be against any opposition or to coddle children and adults. It isn’t. The important thing is to teach children, and adults, how to disagree and accept and face challenges in a productive manner. CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is good. Challenge is good. Competition is good. Debate is good. That’s how we evolve and grow our ideas and within the arena of academia it’s imperative that all ideas and opinions be sharpened and challenged to reach the pinnacle of veracity. Likewise, facing against intellectual, emotional and physical challenges can provide us with the impetus to grow. But there are productive ways in which to do that, and it’s imperative of parents and our educational system and society to teach people the most civil and productive ways to do that.

Bullying offers neither a civil nor productive way to aid evolution. As numerous studies show, it merely creates imbalances in personas and leads to further dysfunction.

It needs to be eliminated. And steps need to be taken to facilitate that elimination immediately. It shouldn’t take a viral video or a column like this to point that out. It should be common sense and based upon the decades of evidence taken into account.

Everyone deserves to live their life and pursue their happiness. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, be happy. Life’s too damn short to be anything else.

Let people find their joy. Let people have their joy. Let people be happy and live their lives.

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.