April 2, 2013

Sticks and Stones - A Man's Story about Surviving Boyhood Bullying

The presentation in the clip below is from poet, Shane Koyczan. The video has been out for a while, but the bullying he describes is age old. His spoken-word poem, To This Day, is filled with a mix of courage, painful honesty and humor as he tells his tale of surviving bullying and the rage that makes a bully. If you let his message in, it's a cry-while-laughing experience.

As a small kid who grew up in a blue collar, working class neighborhood, I could not escape the feeling he was telling my story. Every day, I lived with the fear of the after-school battle grounds and the terror of being seen and caught by the bullies. I know you, too, regardless of your gender, understand some part of the bullying picture he paints. I don't think anyone escapes, and we all faced it in some way.  Still today, for me, those emotions are close to the top, especially when facing angry or mean-spirited people. I know it’s why his piece touched me so profoundly.

The following quotes from Shane are out of context and won’t reach as deep inside you as the full TED presentation below. But here are a few Shane-isms . . . that really spoke to me:
  • I’ve gotten shot down so many times I get altitude sickness just from standing up for myself.
  • We were expected to define ourselves at an early age and if we didn’t do it, others did it for us… 
  • My dreams got called names, too. 
  • From age 15 to 18, I hated myself for becoming the thing I loathed, a bully. 
  • The school halls were a battleground . . . yet we used to stay inside for recess because outside was worse . . . 
  • Because of a birthmark that takes up less than half her face, kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer someone tried to erase but couldn’t get the job done. 
  • “. . . he became a mixed drink of one part left alone and two parts tragedy.” 
  • We grew up learning to cheer on the underdog because we see ourselves in them. 
  • If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, get a better mirror!
For the purposes of Man-Making work, what I like the most about Shane’s presentation is how it takes us all back to that horrible and fearful place emotionally. Yes, I like that. I think it invites us to re-feel/live all those horrors of bullying from that time in our lives. His words and artful presentation put us in direct communication with the nightmare too many kids are living right now, every day. I like a visceral response because I believe it’s from that place of discomfort where transformation, action, and the needed honest conversations can begin. When you share a clip like this with the young people in your world and then ask them about their gut reaction, regardless of what is said, healing, support, and the desire to make a difference all show up.

If you have a personal story about bullying when you were a kid and have the courage to share it, use the comment section below or send it along to me and I’ll add it for you. You can be anonymous if you like.

If the clip does not show up use this link

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