Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pink shirts and an elephant in the room

It's not often that I agree with Province columnist Jon Ferry, but his piece in yesterday's paper raised some interesting points about the annual "Pink Shirt Day", the day to show solidarity in the "war on bullying".

One of Jon's points was that the general groupthink behind the event was a form of bullying, in itself. I was out and about a fair bit yesterday, and can't recall seeing anyone wearing a pink shirt. Does that mean all those people in downtown Vancouver were staunchly in favor of bullying? Yet, was that not the implication of not wearing a pink shirt yesterday?

But the fact is, for all the years of anti-bullying messages -- pink shirts, poignant posters by elementary school kids, songs, plays and YouTube videos -- the situation keeps getting worse. People's lives are still being ruined -- both through traditional playground bullying and lintbrains on the (anti-)social network in this Age of Nasty -- and some children actually commit suicide, hoping to escape it. Maybe the approach needs to be re-thought.

One question I don't hear being addressed is, Why do bullies bully? I was on the receiving end of a fair bit of bullying when I was growing up, but I also bullied back and I believed I was absolutely justified in doing so. I won't go into a litany of excuses, mitigating reasons or extenuating circumstances: the fact is, I could be one mean sonofabitch and only realized what I'd done after I'd grown up and reflected on it.

If I "had my reasons" for bullying, so do others, and they're probably not aware of what they're doing, either. If we're serious about "stopping bullying", the bully's point of view needs to be considered.

That is, unless we don't want to admit that maybe there's a bit of a bully in all of us.

(I would also recommend a column by Stephen Quinn in the Globe and Mail from November, in which he discusses "the Culture of Mean" and the fact that meanness is all around us and children learn what's in their environment. I hope he's kidding when he suggests that "culture of mean" only applies to American talk radio. Canadian talk radio is only slightly better in that regard.

Right around the same time as Stephen's column and the summit he refers to, a billboard turned up from shoemaker John Fluevog. It showed a pair of purple suede high-heeled boots, and the caption, "No, you're weird!" I don't know if John intended this, but it came across as an excellent anti-bullying message: the perfect comeback for someone who gets razzed for the kind of clothes he or she wears -- pink shirt, purple boots, whatever. It was something my mother would have counselled me to say in response to similar ribbing from my peers -- and as a child, I did tend to dress, well, individualistically. I'm still trying to buy up all the negatives. But I digress ...)

Back to Jon's column. A point that really stood out for me was the observation by a school psychologist from New York, who said that the current obsession with bullying creates a victim mentality. While he didn't say it in so many words, the victim mentality provides excuses for one's own wrong behaviour (see "bullied back," above) and promotes weakness in the face of adversity. Once a child grows up and no longer has anyone's skirts to hide behind, won't he or she become a sitting duck for the bullies who have graduated to the business world and brought a subtler, more grown-up form of bullying into the workplace?

Worse, will they not be quick to pull the trigger and claim that others are bullying them when they run into a disagreement? Perhaps those others are simply being strong and forceful with their opinions or actions, but they could become stigmatized because of the accusations.

But the elephant in the room here is that there is a solution to bullying that I don't hear talked-about in the mainstream, and that is love and forgiveness. Love as a response to hate is not preached in the secular world, yet that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. But God is Love, as the Apostle John writes, and God, sadly, was told to leave the public school system more than 40 years ago.

So, how well has that worked for us?

Maybe it's time to revisit that politically-incorrect approach. "Do not be overcome with evil," the Apostle Paul writes (Romans 12:20), "but overcome evil with good." And Peter cautions against "returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:9)

(Are there other "religious" philosophies with similar views? Do they involve reaching out to our tormentors in love and calling God's blessing on them, as Jesus' approach does, or simply looking inward to calm our own souls? That's a major point, and I'd suggest that the latter approach simply causes the bullying to intensify and sooner or later, one is bound to crack.)

After all, Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross was about overcoming, not remaining victims. We are supposed to overcome our own adversity and then help others overcome theirs. We are called to minister to victims, not become one ourselves. As Jesus says, "if the blind leads the blind, they both will fall into a ditch." (Matt. 15:14)

In the book of Revelation, we get an idea of what God has in store for overcomers: 
  • To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life. (Rev. 2:7)
  • He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. (Rev. 2:11)
  • To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and ... a new name (Rev. 2:17)
  • He that overcometh ... to him will I give power over the nations (Rev. 2:26)
  • He that overcometh ... shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (Rev. 3:5)
  • Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God (Rev. 3:12)
  • To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne (Rev. 3:21)
  • He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. (Rev. 21:7) (KJV throughout)
I haven't seen any indication that victims get the same promises as overcomers. Overcomers are victims who have stopped blaming circumstances and/or other people and have chosen to forgive and move ahead in Christ. "If you will not forgive others," Jesus says, "how can My Father in Heaven forgive you?"

Forgiving bullies and loving them is the most effective way to defuse bullying. Turning oneself into a victim gives the bullies more power than they deserve -- and all the power they want. Forgiving them releases God into the situation and He resolves things to His satisfaction -- which means the bullies are brought to repentance.

Which would you prefer: a pink T-shirt or white raiment?

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