- Vancouver, British Columbia -
"And you... yeah, you. Sick of some jerk shoving your head down the toilet? Well, you know what? Maybe... you should lift some weights, or uh, take a karate lesson and the next time he tries to do it, you kick him in the balls." - Donnie Darko
I can see the hate mail piling up now (in of itself terribly ironic), so first let me be upfront and honest with all of you: I despise bullying. With all my heart I feel, what I feel, a justifiable anger toward bullies and boundless sympathy for the victims of such. All through elementary school I was bullied. While in Scouts, I was bullied to the point that I quit the program, after spending years enjoying it and wanting to be a life-time member. Granted, I rejoined later as an adult, but turned around and quit the program again when I found something I despised just as much: bureaucracy.
I was an easy target being shy, tubby, and religious, and I paid for it emotionally. While in high school, my mom and I were picking up one of my younger brothers from school when we came across him being bullied by someone. I felt a growl in my throat and had to be restrained by my mom, who decided that she wanted the first shot.
In Scouting, I was routinely harassed by one kid in particular, and it led up to an incident which surprised both of us: my fist connected with his face. There's no pride in that statement, as I was a pacifist and very timid. The shame of hitting him reduced me to tears, more than the bullying. I didn't like what the bullying had turned me into.
So it doesn't come easily when I say that I find Pink Day to be a wasted effort at best and a grotesquely misguided publicity stunt at worst. For a little background, I want to draw your attention to a social and history experiment that took place in Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, in April of 1967. History teacher Ron Jones attempted to illustrate to his students how the people in the Nazi regime could commit atrocities against their own, and did so by creating a movement known as "The Third Wave" and enlisting his students. In a nutshell, it involved conformity to a set of principles that clearly resulted in better behaviour and academic scores. Within a week, the movement exploded from the initial thirty students to over two hundred, and Jones had to terminate the experiment prematurely.
It's unfortunate that I've just given another example of Godwin's Law, but my intent is not to compare Wear Pink Day to fascism. What I would like to point out is that one byproduct of this experiment was increased socialization between members, but those who weren't interested in joining the Third Wave were targeted by members and subjected to harassment and physical violence. In other words, a movement that had the goal of unifying students in a social contract also had the effect of bullying those who had no interest in participating.
Although I've found no studies done regarding Anti-Bullying Day in particular, it seems a little antithetical to strongly encourage kids to conform. There's a huge push for students to show solidarity to the movement by wearing pink, but I feel the question needs to be asked: why? When did wearing something accomplish anything?
Let me back up a bit. What we're telling our kids is that bullying is bad, and that if you oppose bullying, then you should do what everyone else is doing and wear pink. And while I can clearly see that the motives are in the (mostly) right place, we must ask the question of why kids bully in the first place.
The answer to that is because human beings are intolerant of differences, or more specifically anything that does not conform to the norm. Right now, my 5-year old is asserting that he MUST wear pink this Anti-Bullying Day coming up. He doesn't really know why besides the rhetoric repeated by the teachers ("Bullying is bad! Wear pink!"), and I don't think he understands it. But he fervently holds that he must conform to this expectation. The logical follow up to this notion is what happens in a kindergarten classroom, where such rhetoric is rampant, where one kid doesn't conform? At the very least, can we not agree that every other student will be inquiring why? I don't know too many 5 year olds who wouldn't feel shame at being left out.
Studies have consistently shown that peer interaction is a bigger influence than parental, from childhood up through adolescence (Mounts & Steinberg's 1995 study is pretty good, but not the only source). And I'm sure this is no surprise to anyone who went through public school; your peers' opinions mattered a lot and conformity is of utmost priority.
What Anti-Bullying Day, and particularly the mindset of wearing pink on that day, is inadvertently creating is a hostile atmosphere to those who don't want to wear pink. Because the day has such avid supporters who latch onto the project, again because of good intentions, it misses out the point of why this project came about in the first place and how bullying can actually be combatted against.
Firstly, the movement was started by two high school students in Nova Scotia: David Shepherd and Travis Price. And it was a good idea. They were choosing to stand out against the norm and draw attention to their cause against bullying. It created waves, and I think it's fair to say that the "It Gets Better Campaign" is a logical extension of the movement. The problem for me here in British Columbia arose when the BCLiberal Party adopted the program and created Anti-Bullying Day to be a province-wide program on the last Wednesday of every February. Again, not a bad thing…a little awareness goes a long way. But my issue is Premier Christy Clark's attitude about the whole thing. Within the last couple years, she has adopted the program but taken an extreme stance on it. In fact, if you go to Wikipedia's article on Anti-Bullying Day, you'll find the following statement in the first paragraph:
On this day participants are asked to wear pink to symbolize a stand against bullying.
This makes sense, but the citation for this statement leads to the following URL: http://www.bcliberals.com/wearpink/
If you follow the link, you are taken to a page that simply gives a mission statement by Christy Clark, spouting the usual political mantras, the party's ideology, and a message from the president of the party. Nowhere on this page is Anti-Bullying Day mentioned. Using the search function on their website with the term "anti-bullying day" only yields Christy Clark's biography.
Is this what Anti-Bullying Day has been reduced to? Conformity by wearing shirts and party propaganda? Coincidentally, Wikipedia has the article flagged for failing to have good sources, and being poorly written. EDITOR'S NOTE: Since the time of this article's writing, the link from anti-bullying day to the BCLiberals' homepage has been removed by Wikipedia.
I think it's also worth mentioning, since we are undoubtedly going to be seeing the government's firm stance against bullying in a couple weeks, the bullying they have been perpetrating against the teachers in this province (yes, this again). Why I bring it up is that this past Monday, Ms. Clark was on a local radio station expressing doubts that a compromise with teachers can be reached and that they will just have to be legislated against, again. Perhaps our Premier should be told that if negotiations are to proceed, perhaps the government should show up to the bargaining table instead of skipping the last three sessions.
Although it seems like I'm picking on the BCLiberals (it's so easy!), I want to illustrate a bigger point. A month ago, fellow Sour Grapes Winery contributor and editor-in-chief Joel Bain wrote that it was hard for people to preach how bullying was wrong, when they are surrounded by bullying employed by businesses, politicians, and celebrities. He's 100% right. So here's my ultimate beef with Anti-Bullying Day.
It's goal is unrealistic and the approach is all wrong.
The goal is to stamp out bullying, which is simply not possible. Conflict is part of human interaction, and wearing pink shirts and encouraging conformity to a propaganda holiday won't change it. In fact, conflict is something that should be celebrated as it challenges us to think and act in new ways. I'm not saying bullying is good, but bullying is an extension of conflict, when one person can't express themselves productively.
So what we should be teaching kids is interpersonal skills, but that also needs to be paired with practical applications of the Realistic Conflict Theory - what a name. The theory proposes that conflict arises when there is competition over limited resources, which can include attention from peers. The best example was the Sherifs' Robbers Cave Experiment. Boys at a summer camp were separated into two groups. Within days of the two groups meeting with each other, hostility formed between them. Not a lot, but clearly a rivalry. Without prompting, the groups chose team names and asked the day camp leaders to organize competitions that they could square off against each other in. A second phase of the experiment involved the leaders creating friction between the groups, but this proved too successful. The third phase revolved around integrating the two groups into one, and this was accomplished by having the boys participate in several activities that required them to all work together. This phase was more successful than anticipated also, with the kids forming tight friendships despite previous associations.
The idea would be to not preach to the kids about how bullying is bad, but (as an example) have all the kids in the school work towards a common goal or perhaps all participate in a massive group activity at least once a week. I know I'm being a little hypocritical by suggesting a form of conformity, but my approach here was never to condemn conformity as a means, but how it's being used. A goal like eliminating bullying is not tangible or feasible, but a goal like winning a trophy at the end of the year certainly is.
So no, I'm not a supporter of Anti-Bullying Day. I feel that it is yet another attempt for people to assign themselves to a cause without actually having to do something about it. As for me, I'm going to teach my kid how to resolve conflicts with his words and how to approach conflict intelligently. I've also enrolled him in self-defence classes because I'm very aware that bullying is not going to be stamped out, and I want my son to be able to defend himself.
Bullying can be a dangerous phenomenon that leads to emotional and physical trauma. Make no mistake about that. But until we address our societal issues, our role models, and our methods of correcting that behaviour, we are fooling ourselves by wearing pink-tinted glasses.
And if you don't agree with me, I'll beat you up.