Today, it is not about writing. It is not about great and not so great books. It is about Amanda Todd, Rehteah Parsons, Sladjana Vidovic, Phoebe Prince, Tyler Clementi, Jamie Hubley, Audrie Pott, Kenneth Wisehuhn, Jadin Bell, Emilie Olsen, Nakia Venant, and the thousands of other kids and teens who were bullied to death. Today is not about generalized schoolyard teasing, it is not about friends ribbing each other good humouredly. Today is about a culture of sustained, aggravated, malicious, intensive maltreatment of fellow human beings, to the point that no intervention will do anything to stop it. To the point that the victim sees no alternative other than to end it all. Today is Anti-Bullying Day.
Across the world today, we are wearing pink shirts, and it is not because “On Wednesdays, we wear pink”. It is because kids, such as those portrayed in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls (from whence we learned the above quote), have taken meanness too far. It is because adults have been conditioned to look out “for number one”, and that “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, to the point that there is an environment of high school bullying in the workplace. I have heard over the years that everyone is bullied, and that we need to have a thicker skin, but that has little of anything to do with actual bullying. I was teased for being a goody goody, a teacher’s pet, and a crybaby. It hurt, and I didn’t like it, but that wasn’t bullying. That is kids being mean. When kids form hate groups designed to do nothing but pick on one girl, until she has to change schools in order to rediscover her self worth, that is bullying. When the internet allows for gossip to spread quicker than a California brushfire, when images can be photoshopped and texted to an entire class, when school halls spread into the world, and the girl who changes schools finds that her new school has already been poisoned against her before she even stepped foot in the door – that is bullying in today’s world. We used to be able to leave the teasing at school, and if it went on, we would pretend to have the flu for a day or two, but eventually, that sort of meanness would move along to the next weakest person. Now the school halls are every where. They are in bed where the victim seeks refuge with his cellphone to escape the misery. They are in the movie theatre, where the victims phone buzzes with each vitriolic tweet. They are everywhere. Today, we remind each other that this has to stop. Today, we show the victims that we are listening.
That said, we must truly listen. We cannot simply don a pink shirt, feel benevolent and move on. Today is not about just today. Tomorrow, when we all change back into our black shirts, we need to remain allies. We need to speak to our kids about what is acceptable behaviour. We need to remember that teens think adults are out of touch, and create interventions that will allow them to feel loved and supported. We need to teach children that there is no excuse for this. And we need to define the difference between kids being mean, and bullying. I have noticed that “bullying” has become shorthand for “he won’t play with me”, and “she made fun of my drawing”, and I feel that the watering down of the word is doing bullying victims a serious disservice. What happens when we hear the same word over and over? We become desensitized to it, and instead of taking bullying allegations seriously, we instruct our children to learn to deal with it. But that is not possible. How do you just “deal” with the I Hate Hannah Club? How do you just “deal” with photos of your rape being used as “evidence” of your promiscuity? How do you just “deal” with a grown man in a completely different country cyberstalking you, a child, and ensuring that no matter where you go, you will be tormented? The answer is that you can’t. You need help.
This morning, my son, who has worn his pink shirt any day of the year, cried when we reminded him to wear it. He had been teased and told that “pink is a girl’s colour” (which opens a whole other can of worms about gender discrimination. But that is for another post on another day.), and due to that teasing, he did not want to wear pink. When we got to daycare, there was the boy that had teased him, wearing a pink shirt. The point is that, yes, kids can be mean. They can lash out and say mean things without thinking. It can make you cry, but we need Pink Shirt Day for this reason – if the meanness is allowed to continue, it can grow; we need to learn ourselves, and teach our children that under no circumstances is it ok to intentionally hurt another person. Ever. There is a large percentage of the global population that believes that bullying is the best way to get ahead, and sadly, we reinforce this by promoting bullies, by electing them to the highest offices, by deferring to them. But today is about making this stop. Today is about remembering those who didn’t survive their bullying, speaking up for those who are being bullied now, and for beginning the discussion that will allow us to move forward, into a kinder society.