(Note: This article begins with the YouTube video of Shane Koyczan describing his experience as a bullied child in school, called “They Called Me Pork chop”. I highly recommend viewing this excellent video if you can’t watch it from your mobile .)
It’s easy to share opinions and much harder to tell our stories.
Shane Koyczan, esteemed Canadian spoken word poet, famous for his performance at the Vancouver Olympics’ opening ceremonies, passionately shares his story, a story framed by the label “Pork chop” and the trauma he and his two friends endured as “lessers” in school.
Words cut deep. Bullying begins with name calling, sorting the acceptable and non-acceptables by a few cruel ones which quickly escalates to a school game of humiliation.
Pork chop. Ugly. Dog. Loser. Cutting. Suicide. Drugs. Despair.
The game of survival of the fittest plays out in every school yard, business or setting where humans live. Barbara Colorosa suggests that everyone has once played the bullied, the bully or the by-stander and that bullying touches all of us . Shane’s story opens the conversation, engages our hearts and provokes a response. Hearing his story, I remembered mine.
When I was seven, I stood by as my Grade Two class cornered me and Amy W. from Hong Kong at the back of the school, pushing and shoving her, calling her ‘slant eyes’, shouting “go back, you don’t belong here!’ After recess, as Miss Pucci screamed her disgust at our class, I buried my head on my desk and sobbed in shame. Amy’s red snow pants were ripped, her jacket torn. My heart was shredded by the ugliness of their hatred and my powerlessness to stop them. I never told my parents.
By grade four, I lived as one of the unaccepted. Recess was a grueling child-sized stress test, a treadmill of tension and alertness, as I hugged brown brick walls, staying invisible, hoping the girls wouldn’t see me, that the boys wouldn’t push. After school, I would walk the four blocks home as fast as my clumsy feet could get me, hoping the boys were too far away to notice me, hoping they wouldn’t catch up. One time they horked gobs of spit on me, yelling “Bible-back Barill”, “Ugly Cow!” “Loser!!” gleeful in their grade six boy sport of humiliation, cold to my shame as I swallowed down tears and head down, made my way home.
Sometimes in the spring, the joy of warm sunshine and cool fresh air after long northern Ontario winter would thaw the game. Under clear blue recess sky, survival was called off and tag was on as we playfully scrambled up and over the large railways ties of the spider tree, enjoying sweet unexpected peace together. I remember longing for those recesses to last. The school bell seemed to ring early then. Those days were few.
After many years of bullying, elementary school left me anxious, a consummate pleaser, conflict-shy, stunted, double-minded. Outwardly I thrived as a leader in high school, enjoying student council, promotions, scholarships, and friends. Inwardly I knew that with one wrong word or wrong outfit or the wrong setting, a bully would appear and I would be sunk. I knew I missed the cool gene, that elusive immunity others seemed to enjoy.
For me, university was just an older crueler playground. As I drowned my despair in alcohol, unable to explain my poor choices, desperate to prove those words wrong, my family wondered. Friends left.
I was a difficult person to embrace.
If you had called me beautiful, I would have shrugged in unbelief. All my ears heard was “You’re ugly. And soon someone is going to tell everyone the truth.”
Lies kept me hidden, silent. A child in shadows still holding the adult in contained patterns in case the cycle repeated. I cringed as the bully emerged in my parenting, as cruel words tossed in arguments shattered the trust in my marriage.
Despite knowing Jesus for two decades, only now have I begun to speak from that still deep waiting place, finally brave enough to show my unique beauty to those who would treasure me. I often tell my children they are loved, they are beautiful, hoping it will give them the long-desired immunity I had longed for as a child. Hoping they will believe the truth instead of a bully’s taunts.
“To This Day Project” begs us to search and find the inherent treasure within each human being. With image and story, passion and prose, Shane begs each of us to take off the lenses clouded by labels and look again. To find another mirror and begin to recognize our worth. Passionately Shane exhorts us to build our identity by recognizing our unique beauty and not the labels spoken over us. To stop the words we rehearse within, we must first see how beautiful, how valuable we really are. To stop bullying, we must believe that the inherent beauty is each of us is worth defending.
I believe for powerful permanent change, we need to see ourselves through God’s eyes because what God says about us matters.
King David was despised by his brothers yet rose to be a great king, worshiper and visionary for Israel. As he journeyed closer to God, David understood his identity as wonderful simply because he was created by God Almighty:
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
Jesus Christ understood the pain of name-calling. His family called Him crazy. His town tried to push him off a cliff. The church leaders declared Him a Satanist. After pouring out his life in three solid years of preaching and healing all across His nation, the people who paraded Him into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hail to the Son of David” screamed “Yes, He deserves death! Torture Him! Crucify Him! Get rid of Him! “just five days later.
He died even as they shouted names, oblivious to His pain, full of hatred. Though Jesus heard every word, every despicable thought, He offered forgiveness as His response.
Pinned to a cross, He remained free. He believed what God said about Him: This is My Beloved Son (Mathew 3:17, Luke 9:35).
Freedom comes in the context of being loved. Freedom remains when we look again at the lies and labels and shred them with God’s truth. The truth is, we are wonderfully and beautifully made.
Contrary to others’ imperfect opinions, God hasn’t changed His mind about our worth. Truth is, God says we are worth dying for. It only cost Him His Son’s life.
Jesus lovingly agreed. Truth is, Jesus came to earth with you in mind:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour .
Truth is, Jesus died on purpose for you. For me. For the joy of knowing us.
We are not powerless to stop bullying. As we each discover the truth of our own unique beauty, we begin to see the intrinsic beauty of others. As we draw close to God, His identity becomes all that matters. Armed with truth, we are empowered to stand up for those who can’t, to speak words of life, to challenge the lies.
I pray that you would know the strength of God’s spoken words over you this day, and that you will join me as we slowly emerge from our hidden places to share our unique beauty with a world who desperately needs what we each have to offer.
Do you see your beauty? Do you know you are worth dying for? What is your story?