This coming Friday one of the most talked about movies to come along in years will debut in the form of a documentary: Bully. What makes its premiere even more interesting is the recent reversal of its rating from R to PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. This action was spurred by an online petition on Change.org, generating more than 500,000 supporters, undertaken by a Ann Arbor high school student, Katy Butler, herself a one-time victim of bullying.
The rating change assures a wider audience, including school-age individuals – those most likely to perpetuate or be affected by bullying. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education 13 million American kids are bullied each year. It is a tragedy and one thankfully being dealt with seriously and with no tolerance, from classrooms to the halls of Congress. At ages where peer pressure and a desire for acceptance are at their highest levels, the isolation, stress and shame of being bullied experienced by kids often ill equipped to handle it can have dire consequences. All too often, in fact, we hear of suicides and Columbine type reprisals.
Governor Rick Snyder has admitted to being bullied and, as I watched the trailer to the movie, the image of a school bus brought back memories for me as well. In switching from Catholic to public school in 9th grade, I suddenly found myself in a new school, district and environment where I knew no one. My first day, in fact, I stood on the wrong corner for the bus which subsequently passed me by with a vehicle full of taunting kids. Arriving at school via my parents, I experienced more of the same and what would become several months of unpleasantness – including merciless teasing, being stolen from and physical duress, including being stabbed with a screwdriver. I still bear the scar.
While the experience was terrible at the time, it made me a better person – not only able to “turn the other cheek” but also to stick up for myself when things went too far. In years to come I would intervene where I would see others being bullied – even when it meant putting myself in harm’s way.
Though I don’t know exactly what Bully will ultimately portray or teach, I am hopeful it will open eyes and minds – showing that we are all people with feelings; that no one is any better than anyone else; that, as my mom used to say to me as we would pass someone less fortunate: There but for the grace of God go I. To be sure, there are enough hardships in life. Why do some insist on making things more difficult for others?