When I was in high school, it wasn’t okay to be a homosexual, though my best friend was.
Transgender wasn’t even discussed. Racial jokes were told in the cafeteria without any thought to political correctness. If you didn’t find it funny, you were a loser. Special needs meant easy target. Bullying happened and parents rarely stepped in because they didn’t know how.
Suicide was never talked about. If it happened, it was kept quiet. Teen angst was just an attitude that needed an adjustment. Acting out, like cutting or eating disorders, were seen as cries for attention, not help. Depression was weakness. And if someone had a mental health breakdown, there was shame on them and their family. A sexual assault meant you were asking for trouble. We didn’t talk about these issues.
I’d like to think the world has changed. I’d like to think people have opened their minds, even if the lives of others confound their personal beliefs. I’d like to believe people stop seeing any of these challenges as choices. Nobody chooses to be gay. Nobody chooses to be assaulted. Nobody wants to be bullied. Nobody wants to be the subject of a joke because of his or her gender, race or religion. I want to believe we mute judgment when we remember everyone’s life has value. Live and let live.
It’s a naive notion, I know, but it’s mine. I hold on to it despite the fact my children tell me that bullying is as prevalent as ever; there are just new outlets to torment. Where my generation had notes passed in the classroom and social exclusion in the hallways, their generation has the technology of the world at their fingertips and the weapon of anonymity at their disposal.
And while my lesbian friend is out of the so-called closet in a country where same-sex marriage is legal, we still needed to hire security for her wedding, despite the fact the ceremony was legally performed in her church, the place where she prays with her community for a better world. Ironic, no?
I could be a defeatist here and throw my hands up in the air and give up. I could say nothing changes. But that is the attitude that ensures nothing does change. I won’t breed contempt. I will teach my children the power of acceptance for themselves and for others.
Next week is Mental Health Awareness week across Canada. This is one area where I believe positive change is happening. People are beginning to understand that physical and mental health are connected, and thus, equally of value. We all have secret battles, whether our own lives or in the lives of those we love. Mental health affects us all. When we drop the shame, we make it okay to not always feel okay, and we make it okay to seek help, because there is always hope.
Difficult conversations are happening. Crisis lines exist. Therapies are recognized. Police and mental health teams are working together. When tragedy strikes, we speak up. We are learning. Compassion is changing lives.
We have a long way to go, but just look how far we’ve come. Change happens. Acceptance is saving lives. That’s a future I want to believe in.