Thursday, February 28, 2008

Legislating Niceness -- another good reason not to wear pink

I didn't wear pink on Feb. 27.

Feb. 27 was declared "pink shirt day", in an effort to stomp out bullying. Since you may not be aware of the connection, anti-bullying became a cause celebre recently, after a boy was beaten up at school, apparently for wearing a pink shirt. The topic has been in the news before, in the past decade, most tragically when a teenage boy leapt to his death from Pattullo Bridge, after reaching the end of his tether with the bullies at school.

One cannot help grieving for and with the parents of that child, and for those parents whose children go through it on a daily basis. But awareness days and legislated measures will never stop it.

Bullying is hateful and hurtful, but it's also a fact of life. I was bullied at school -- rather viciously, I thought. My parents tried to step in, but knew that that would only make things worse for me. They talked to the teachers, although there again, there are only so many things a teacher can do: any conversation is usually along the lines of the basketball player saying to the referee, "hey, ref, will you keep an eye on #24? He's grabbing my jersey every time I go by". The ref can nod and make a mental note, and that's about it.

Bullying is something we have to learn to live with. Enduring it makes one stronger, and able to deal with acts of bullying as we go through other areas of life. My experience in school was founded in a conscious choice I made to be "different", and it was probably the individualist, non-conformist, superior attitude that made other kids want to punch me out. I probably would have done the same. But here I am, 40+ years later, and I'm still alive and not afraid of what others might say about me. Finding the love of Christ has made me realize I'm not truly alone, and no matter how someone else might bully me (not that that happens anymore), I know who I am and whose I am ... and that's what counts.

Suppose we bring in anti-bullying legislation or schoolyard policies? All that does is make bullies more clever about how they do it. And all it does is make the victims less able to cope with it when they get to adulthood and run into the more subtle forms of bullying that adults engage in -- a spouse who's never pleased, a boss who seems to be constantly moving the goalposts on the jobsite; suddenly, there's no "nanny figure" to run to, no "playground duty teacher" to tell.

Bullying and other such nastiness can only be stopped by changes from within. People need to be convicted of the things they do that are wrong -- not told by some authority figure. Parents and others in a position to shape a child's outlook, need to exude an "open-door" mindset, so that a child can always feel there's a place where he or she can turn for sympathy and encouragement when the bullies strike. And there's no shirt colour that can accomplish that.

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