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Learn tolerance, compassion

As a family physician, I've seen it many times. A mother brings in her once happy preteen daughter, now suffering from depression. The cause could be abuse or drugs, but most often it is bullying.

As a family physician, I've seen it many times. A mother brings in her once happy preteen daughter, now suffering from depression.

The cause could be abuse or drugs, but most often it is bullying.

Some classmate, who may or may not be a popular girl, has found something about her that is different - how she dresses, her hair style or colour, her weight, her race or her culture - and used it to ostracize and alienate her from her peers.

Teachers and principals are usually on top of these issues and work with the kids and parents. Sometimes there is no resolution.

Some kids end up enduring alienation until they move to another school, make new friends in high school or resign themselves to home schooling.

We all know that teasing, name-calling and exclusion don't end in secondary school. At a time when adolescents just want to fit in, some of their classmates conspire to make them feel odd, awkward and left out.

In her book, "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and other Realities of Adolescence", Rosalind Wiseman describes how girls can aggressively attack one another socially.

Though we say that "kids can be so cruel", adults can be far worse. Bullying and other forms of social aggression continue in workplaces, on the street, on public transit and in community centres.

It happens in many homes. Here there are no teachers, principals and school counsellors to straighten things out.

At a community centre I frequent, a disabled young man had a fight with a seemingly normal patron.

Those who had come to know the young man over many years knew that he rarely caused any trouble.

Others, however, continued to talk about him in disparaging and alienating ways and continued their own conspiracy of teasing and even hitting him when they thought no one was looking.

What makes adults behaving badly much worse is that we all should know better. Everyone has felt picked on at some time. Not one of us is perfect.

We each have our challenges and quirks.

Let he who is without flaw and has never felt like the odd man out take a step forward.

He'll be standing alone, and then he'll feel

left out too.

Everyone is different in their own way. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) is fascinating reading for any layperson. It lists the diagnostic criteria for psychiatric disorders. You're sure to find friends, relatives, classmates, coworkers and maybe even yourself described somewhere in this tome.

Astute physicians can find something abnormal in any patient. If we order enough tests on a healthy person, we're sure to find some value out of the normal range, most often with no clinical significance.

In adolescence, we just want to fit in. To be cool would be great; just to feel normal would be fine.

The need to fit in continues into adulthood. To get that feeling, many congregate into their own narrowed social groups, not unlike a high school clique. They become part of the in group; everyone else is out and treated accordingly. To see others as different or strange can make us feel superior, and we stop treating them as real people.

We consider ours a tolerant society. As former U.S. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

We have policies to accommodate the disabled, we try to protect the vulnerable, we accept diverse languages and cultures, but as individuals and cultural subgroups, how tolerant are we?

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper, and his blog can be found at, and facebook. com/davidicus.wong.