The Positive Side of Bullying?

To say that I’m writing anything to do with bullying on the week we decide to publish a positivity-focused paper is strange, to say the least.

There’s nothing good, or positive, or happy about bullying. Not one thing, though my younger self tried to find positivity in the face of bullying, some days, weeks, even months were bleaker than words are adequate for. Needless to say, I’ve spent some time staring at a blank screen while my brain struggles to find the right words for this article.

The result is a realization that it’s not the bullying I meant to focus on when I volunteered to submit this particular article to this particular paper. There are all kinds of facts and rather discouraging philosophies and statistics to go with the subject of bullying which we’ve all heard or seen before, and which would never be appropriate for this issue anyway.

What excites me when I look for something positive to say about the struggles many young people face in pubic school and often far into their adult lives, is the stunning efforts of kindness that emerge in these situations.

Seeing campaigns and organizations spring up all over the place, on a scale of small town to whole nation, initiates important changes. Every member of these campaigns and organization and every mind reached or changed by them starts to turn the tide and make bullies a minority, and make bullying a less acceptable social behaviour.

These campaigns and organizations often aim to be empowering so that as the number of bullies shrinks and as the behaviour becomes more and more taboo, fewer and fewer people are willing to be labelled or seen as bystanders.

Efforts that come to mind when I say these things are organizations like “So What? Speak Up!” which advocates an annual Pink Shirt Day and through social media and talks advocate year round for bullying to end.

Organizations like this motivate entire schools, staffs, sometimes large portions of a town to wear pink shirts on a given day. It helps to immerse students, bullies or victims, in a visual sea of support for kindness.

The concept itself, of everybody wearing pink together to combat the ideas behind bully’s attacks, has truly Canadian roots. When some boys gave a grade nine heck for wearing a pink shirt to a Nova Scotia high school, insisting it was “gay” to have done so, a couple of upper year boys made a trip to a thrift store, bought 50 pink tank tops, and handed them out to boys at the school.

Before long a very clear and powerful message had been sent to the bullies: you’re in the minority here, it’s okay for guys to wear pink. If you don’t have anything nice to say then say nothing at all.

On a smaller scale, there have always been people who spread kindness in their lives. A personal anecdote comes to mind of a time I was being bullied verbally and physically in public school.

A girl I didn’t know came up and held my hand. All of a sudden I wasn’t alone, and the bully, being only one person, had fewer things to say. That moment sparked a friendship which carried us far beyond that day. Looking back, it strikes me how the kindness of one person starts such a process of strength and healing.

And of course, it’s individuals who do things like that who will start organizations and efforts like Pink Shirt Day. The sheer volume of the effect things like these have on individuals and communities is astounding.

Even more heart-warming is that there are more and more things like this and they are growing and becoming more popular.

An uncountable number of groups and organizations have, in the past couple years, used social media to communicate an “it gets better” message.

They like to feature successful, presumably happy adults and insinuate that when these adults say, “It gets better” they’re speaking of the transition from a bullied youth to a successful adulthood. These campaigns face criticism in that we should want to make it better now, not tell kids to wait until later.

There’s a truth to that and the movement is real. It’s getting better. It’s getting better every day, every month, every year. Society is becoming less and less tolerant of cruelty towards other humans at any age and in any capacity.

Efforts that change attitudes about bullying, that defame the phrase “kids will be kids,” and force administration of our public schools from complacency to action are on the rise.

Society is waking up to the long lasting effects of childhood bullying and it seems that, as I look around and see from the perspective of someone for whom “it got better,” I am astounded by the shift from ignorance towards active kindness.