East of Eli

To Whom It May Concern

Written by Helen in response to Create Change CCO Chyler Leigh’s article ‘Bullied and the Beast’. We believe this powerful submission will speak to a lot of us who may not have actively bullied anyone but who stood by passively and watched it happen without intervening.

I've learned over the years the vast amount of difference between silence and speaking up.

My letter below is addressed to Chloe, but I feel I discuss why “To Whom It May Concern” has no power over me.

My memory of being bullied is hazy at best. Looking back on those moments is like trying to find a specific radio station but being unable to remember the exact frequency. As a result of bullying, I was shy. I am not shy anymore. This change was definitely my, “You have no power over me” moment. Anyone who knows me now would most likely struggle to reconcile me with someone who is quiet and tries to stay at the edges of rooms. To paraphrase the Game of Thrones Night’s Watch, I was the watcher by the wall.

As I write this, I can look across my desk at a lanyard for the anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label, which is based in the UK. Last year I worked as a student ambassador for them. I know I was able to help people last year, but it left me reflecting on the times I didn’t. The article The Bullied and the Beast left me itching to respond to Chloe, because I felt a need to discuss, not the times I bullied, nor the times I was bullied, but the times I stood alongside a bully. So, here’s my letter:

Dear Chloe,

I know your letter wasn’t intended for me – I just happened to see your letter, in much the same way I used to see To Whom It May Concern head over to you. I feel the anxiety now, the icy sensation spreading from the nape of my neck down my back and throughout my body. The slight tickle of damp as I begin to sweat. These responses happen just from thinking about seeing To Whom It May Concern head over to you. To Whom It May Concern used to head over to me. You probably remember more clearly than I do when that stopped happening. You were never present when To Whom It May Concern spoke to me, but I remember standing by the wall when they spoke to you. I remember seeing To Whom It May Concern’s back as a safe place.

I know your letter wasn’t intended for me – I never spoke to you. But I never spoke for you either, Chloe. I wanted to say sorry for that.

I’ve learned over the years the vast amount of difference between silence and speaking up. When we knew each other I was silent, which was not the right approach. I learned, eventually, to stand up for other people. During this time, I didn’t think to stand up for myself. I was clearly not a good person, otherwise, why would To Whom It May Concern have bullied me in the first place? Why would I stand silently by while they bullied you? It never occurred to me that I was holding myself up to a different standard. When I realised, eventually, that no one is, or can be “a good person”, things started to improve.

I aim to be good, I mess up, I learn and I do better.

Just because I never spoke to you Chloe, doesn’t mean I didn’t do any damage. I want to apologise for my silence – which was really me backing To Whom It May Concern. I know it might be too late, but in case you ever need a friend in the friend in the future…

What are your thoughts on bullying? What have you done to prevent or stop bullying on the spot? How can we build a safe and inclusive school environment, workplace and/or community? Join the discussion on our FORUM in our Operation Orange discussion board.

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