Mayor Robin Jones’ 2020 New Year’s Letter

Dear Westport residents, business owners, visitors and those who otherwise call Westport home:

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Scientists have researched the characteristics that repeat themselves in the makeup of people who are happy, successful and find the greatest meaning from their time on earth.  The single quality that rises to the top in creating and perpetuating happiness is kindness. It is the principle that, if we simply create value and serve others and our world, the people and the world itself will respond to us in kind.  There is no more fundamental truth than that of love and kindness. The meaning of our lives will be defined by the joy we experience and the fingerprint we leave on the world. We truly do get from our life what we put into it. If we help spread kindness, gratitude and joy, those things will come back to us exponentially.

It is against this backdrop that I want to talk about bullying.  Bullying is defined as a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual intended to cause fear and distress or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation.  The most common is verbal bullying although physical bullying occurs far too regularly in schools.  

Cyber bullies use social media to harass victims. Traditional bullying usually stops when a victim returns to the safety of his or her home, but cyber bullying is a continuous process maintained through social media and email/texting.

All of our school boards have strong anti-bullying policies. The evidence is overwhelming of the correlation between bullying and childhood depression and suicide.  The Upper Canada District School Board promoted Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in November to help enhance school safety and encourage positive learning environments.  The message to the students was ‘IN A WORLD WHERE YOU CAN BE ANYTHING, BE KIND’.  “The importance of being kind and empathetic is embedded in the foundation of our schools, and it’s the premise of our Character Always initiative,” says Upper Canada District School Board Chair John McAllister. “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week is the perfect time to increase our focus on the harm bullying can cause and reflect on ways we can continue to create a caring environment that advances student learning. It is a responsibility for each and every one of us.”

All governments, police services, non-profit and volunteer organizations, and most businesses have strong harassment prevention and anti-bullying policies that enunciate acceptable behaviour and provide for a “standard of care” to the employees by the employer. 

Globally, there are numerous anti-bullying programs to help people.  Some began as a result of a suicide of a bullied child.  Others are started by people who were bullied as children and  have the ability to advocate for others.  Lions Clubs Ireland commissioned a ‘Do you know if your Child is being Bullied’ leaflet, which sets out clear steps for Parents and Guardians of children to take. The leaflets on bullying and cyber bulling have been distributed to all houses with school-going children of vulnerable age in Ireland. Justin Wren, American humanitarian worker and heavyweight MMA fighter began  “Fight for the Forgotten” an anti-bullying program that focusses on getting young people into martial arts dojos where they develop self-esteem and fighting skills to help challenge those who bully them.  Joe Rogan, American standup comedian and podcast host pitches his program  “Be the Hero of Your Own Movie”. It supports youth to develop character to combat bullying. Rogan was also the person who first described cyber bullies as suffering from “recreational outrage”.  

Churches are other organizations that encourage kindness.  The Bible is filled with kindness and compassion. It streams through the pages of the Old Testament, pours out of the Gospels, and presents itself as a challenge to followers of Jesus. The Bible talks of a God who has compassion, a Saviour who suffers for the world, and it asks us to live and act compassionately.  

Another example of commitment to kindness is the Coventry Cross of Nails, which is a Christian cross made from iron nails, employed as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The original version was made from three large medieval nails salvaged from the Coventry Cathedral after the building was severely damaged by German bombs in November 1940, during the Second World War. The idea for the cross came from the priest who found several large hand-forged medieval carpenters nails as he walked through the ruins of the cathedral on the morning after the bombing. He used some wire to bind together three nails into the shape of a Latin cross, the words “Father Forgive” were carved into the wall behind the altar of the ruined building, and two charred beams fallen together into the shape of a cross were erected among the rubble. In the following decades, several hundred crosses have been given as gifts to various organizations, including churches, prisons and schools to encourage and recognize peace and reconciliation.

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation is celebrated each Friday by Bishop Michael Oulton on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Kingston, as the Diocese of Ontario is a recipient of a Coventry Cross of Nails. The last verse of the prayer encourages kindness, “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”

These are examples of institutions, organizations and individuals who have recognized the impact of bullying and have put policies and programs in place to counter it.  As I researched this article by querying ‘bullying’ on the web, I found thousands of sites.  

Examples of titles are: Dealing with Bullying (for Teens);; Bullying PREVNet – Canada’s authority on bullying; Workplace Bullying: How to Identify and Mange Bullying; Bullying Facts; Statistics, Prevention & Effects.  There are articles that provide support to people being bullied, to parents to help identify when their children are being bullied, to employees who are bullied in the workplace and others.  There is no doubt that bullying is a deep concern globally and these web sites offer well thought out key messages for those affected.

There are many studies that indicate bullying stops when either the victim or an advocate speak up.  Oddly, there are much fewer links on the web to help guide people who want to intervene when they see bullying, for those who want to advocate for others who are being bullied. 

Someone who witnesses bullying, either in person or online, is a bystander. With cyber bullying, even strangers can be bystanders.

Witnessing bullying is upsetting and affects the bystander, too. Bystanders have the potential to make a positive difference in a bullying situation by becoming an Upstander.  An Upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying.

People who are bullied often feel even more alone because there are witnesses who do nothing. When no one intervenes, the person being targeted may feel that bystanders do not care or they agree with what is happening. There are many reasons why a bystander may not interject, even if they believe that bullying is wrong. They may be afraid of retaliation or of becoming the target of bullying themselves. They might fear that getting involved could have negative social consequences.

An Upstander is someone who takes action when they witness bullying. Even one person’s support can make a big difference for someone who is being bullied. When people who are bullied are defended and supported, they are less anxious and depressed than those who are not.

There are many things that bystanders to bullying can do to become Upstanders:

  • Question the bullying behaviour. Simple things like changing the subject or questioning the behaviour can shift the focus.
  • Use humour to redirect the conversation.
  • There is strength in numbers too! Bystanders can intervene as a group to show there are several people who don’t agree with the bullying.
  • Walk with the person who is the target of bullying to help diffuse potential bullying interactions.
  • Reach out privately to check in with the person who was bullied to let them know you do not agree with it and that you care. It makes a difference.

When bystanders become Upstanders it not only helps the targets of bullying, but shows other bystanders how to take action to prevent or address bullying. 1.

I started this letter recounting the scientific research into the makeup of people who are happy, successful and find the greatest meaning from their time on earth and that single quality that rises to the top in creating and perpetuating happiness is kindness. As we move into the next decade, let’s make the commitment to declare Westport a bullying-free community.

We can Dream Big and Make a Difference in someone’s life. Be kind.  Become an Upstander.

“Never believe that a few kind people cannot change the world. For, indeed, that is all who ever have.” Margaret Meade