Today is Pink Shirt Day.
A day, dedicated to wearing pink shirts as a way of drawing attention to the issue of bullying.
You can find out more details about Pink Shirt Day, and how it started, on their website: pinkshirtday.ca
Over the past few days, there have been a number of people in the media, who have asked the question: “Does ‘Pink Shirt Day’ help ?”
The obvious and concise answer, in my opinion, is a solid and resounding “YES !!!”
I was lucky enough to go to Elementary and Secondary Schools where, except for one occasion, I can’t remember encountering bullying.
However, I do know that my childhood and early teen years were a time of change, and a period where I felt alone… isolated… and vulnerable.
I was short… gawky… quiet… not popular and wore glasses. As it was, I largely just kept to myself, and tried not to draw attention to myself. Had I gone to a different school, or had my school had a different environment, I would have been a choice victim for bullies.
And I would have been in trouble.
Later in life, I encountered another set of circumstances and a time where the place I worked for 21 years had to close… I started a new job… I lost both my parents… and we moved… all in the period of four years. At that time, I became entangled in the quicksand of depression. It was an all-consuming, physically-painful period… where I searched for a way out of the darkness, and back into the light of “normalcy”. It was a tough go. But I made a conscious decision, that was critical (in my opinion) to my eventual success… I shared my problem.
I told friends, family and co-workers that I was having a tough time, and was struggling with depression. I took my boss aside, and let him know that I was having a tough time. I relied on my wife more than I usually do. And the thing that surprised me, was the steady stream of those same folk, who, privately, would come up, one by one, and confide that they were going through the same thing… but alone, privately and isolated… and how great it was to have someone to talk to.
They rarely did… but they benefited from the knowledge that they were not alone in their struggles.
A few years later, I worked with an Organization helping parents of kids with eating disorders to understand their children’s journey… and the most impactful lesson I came out of that endeavor with, was their catch phrase: “You Are Not Alone”… which is why I wrote this song.
So, to ask if talking about something makes it better ? Certainly… Undoubtedly… Absolutely… Yes.
It does not make it go away… Only the strength of a society where bullying is unacceptable can stop that.
But the first step is talking about it.
And so today, I wear a pink shirt… and I talk about it.
This morning, I had a flashback to my Elementary School days. I never particularly cared for school, as I was a shy, unathletic, short, scrawny glasses-wearing kid, and until my teens, when I started doing Judo, and working a job, was one of the skinniest rail-thin young boys.
But, while watching The Rosie Show this morning, hearing Kathy Griffin talk about being bullied in school, I suddenly remembered my own ugly memory from my school days, that I had blocked out, and completely forgotten.
I can’t remember if it was the end of Grade One or early in Grade Two… but I was old enough to walk to school on my own. (There was a major road and a set of train tracks that didn’t have stop lights, that had to be crossed, between my Parent’s house, and the School.) An older boy in Grade Six, suddenly started harassing me on my way to and from school. As my best friend had, the summer before, moved away, I was suddenly walking to school on my own… and encountering a bully.
He didn’t want my lunch. He didn’t want me to do his homework. I had nothing he wanted… other than the power I gave him, when his towering, imposing presence, blocked my way and caused me to cringe and draw back in fear. He wanted to enjoy and exploit my fear.
After a week or so, of his attention, before and after school, I was a wreck. I feigned illness, and pulled it off for one day. But, on the second day… my Mum called me on it, and asked me what was REALLY going on. It took a while, but she eventually drew out of me what had been going on, and why I didn’t want to go to school any more. By this time, it was mid morning, and I was well and truly wrung out. She could see that I was exhausted, after talking about it, and I now remember her tucking me back into bed, and falling immediately asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, I buried my concern by diving into a book. My Mum didn’t talk to me about the bullying, any further, when she brought me a sandwich for lunch… and I was happy to avoid dealing with the real world, by immersing myself in the inventive and problem-solving world of Tom Swift.
Later that afternoon, before my Dad came home, my Mum came into my bedroom, and sat down on my bed. She had gone to the school, had confronted the boy, and he wouldn’t be bothering me any more. She said he had made up a story about me beating up his brother, and that he was doing it to teach me a lesson… (My mother was well aware that I was the smallest child in the class, smaller than all the boys and most of the girls, and physically unable to beat up anyone) … but she, perhaps to protect my ego, asked me if there was any truth to his story, and I assured her there was not.
My Mum was a thin, short woman… I have no doubt much shorter than the bully. I have no idea how she found him, and I never asked her… I just took her at her word, and she was right. He never did bother me again, and in Elementary or High School, I never had to face another bully.
I was lucky. I confided in an adult, the situation got resolved… pretty quickly.
We are coming up on Pink Shirt Day – (February, 29, 2012) – A day of awareness about Bullying – whether it takes place in schools, workplaces, in our homes or online.
Something that seems huge and appears to be an insurmountable problem can, frequently, with the benefit of a little time and perspective, be approached differently. But you can often only gain that perspective by talking to someone… preferably someone older.
Like the bullying campaign says: It gets better.
But for it to get better, we ALL have to talk about it… and be as strong for those being bullied, as my Mum was for me.
Face down the Bullies, and talk about it.
(Here is the Rick Mercer Rant, talking about Gay Teens being bullied)