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Pink Shirt Day: Bullying the Bully

Pink Shirt Day

While shopping for lube at the drug store, I came across the above leaflet.  My first reaction was, “You want us to wear a pink shirt to stop bullying?  Why not throw in a pink tutu while we’re at it?  Yeah, I’m sure that’ll help.”  But once I was done writing down “pink tutu” on my “toys to buy list”, some red flags began to pop up in my head.  These are not criticisms of the movement — bullying is a problem that we need to deal with, and I do support the movement (I’m buying a pink tutu, aren’t I?) — but simply cautionary reminders.

Bullying is a Part of Life

Life is a big game of poker.  When somebody raises your blinds every single orbit, sometimes you have to make a stand and shove all your chips in.  You have to show the bully that you aren’t going to be pushed around.  Bullying happens all the time in the real world — in office politics, business deals and even amongst friends.  You could say that bullying is a key tool for success in “free” capitalism.  Why do big corporations get bigger?  They bully the small guys.

We must be careful not to shelter our children too much, so they know how to handle a bully when they graduate to the real world and don’t have an army of pink tutus to back them up.

Who’s the Real Bully?

How are we going to teach our kids to not bully when the adults do it on a far larger scale?  Belligerent TV bullies like Bill O’Reilly are awarded their own show.  Even a “good guy” like Dr. Phil often bullies his guests by turning his popularity with the audience against his guests.  (And ironically, Dr. Phil would probably speak vehemently against bullying.)  Drug companies are notorious bullies, using their power to suppress generic brands and doing shit like raising the price of drugs %1200 in a month.  Why?  Because they’re the biggest, meanest bad boy on the playground.  And do we really need to go into politics?  Democratic discussion has long given way to politicians trying to Sparta kick each other.

Caution This is Sparta

Bullying the Bully

Isn’t the pink tutu movement a form of bullying itself?  We’re using superior numbers and social pressure to bully the bullies into not bullying.  “Don’t bully.  It’s not cool.  If you do, you will be publicly humiliated.”

Too often have we seen the oppressed, once free of their oppression, become the oppressor.  Labour unions, a product of the inhumane working conditions during the Industrial Revolution, now go on the offensive and have their employers on their heals shitting litigation bricks.  Some branches of feminism have evolved into female chauvinism.  In turn, the newly oppressed begin a movement, and the cycle begins all over again.

Power corrupts.  When a powerless, oppressed group begins to gain a little of it back, it feels good to be in control again, to be master of your own happiness.  And because it feels good, we seek a little more, and a little more.  How many of us have the will to give it up?  But we must, if we are to break the cycle.

Man Pink Tutu Bow

Shamelessly stolen from Ichibod.

Breaking the Cycle

Bullying the bully is not all bad.  Sometimes you have to give her a good backhand to shut her the fuck up and calm her down so that you can begin the conversation.  (I think I’ve just created a few more feminists with that metaphor.)  But bullying the bully is not the end at all.  It’s just the beginning.  Perhaps we’re conditioned by movies and fairy tales for so long that we think, “Once we kill the bad guy, we win, the end, gg.”  But what will the bully do when there isn’t a bigger bully around?  Have we actually solved the problem?

To truly break the cycle, we need compassion.  Once we have the power, we have to do what the bully did not — relinquish it.  The pink tutu website cites statistics like “kids who are bullied are more likely to do drugs, blah blah”, essentially demonizing the bullies.  But I’d like to see statistics or studies that show what goes into making a bully.  If we subscribe to the notion that you can’t be truly happy when you’re being mean to people, doesn’t it follow that bullies are unhappy and need caring?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.  -Jesus (Matthew 5:44)

Why do people bully?  Bullies are often bullied themselves, either by older siblings, other kids, or abusive parents.  It’s a survival mechanism and way for them to regain some sense of control when they feel vulnerable.  Sometimes, even as adults, we bully from fear of losing our social status.  Most animals, even humans, act aggressive in response to perceived danger.  Very few go out of their way to pick a fight.  Fighting in nature is a last resort, because any injury is most likely fatal.  Instead, animals engage in a lot of posing and threatening in order to avoid a fight.  In human terms, compare the gentle giant to the guy with small man syndrome.

This is not to relieve bullies of responsibility for their actions.  Bullies have to know that what they do is not okay.  But the other often ignored part of the solution is to help the bullies not feel threatened.  As much as we need to teach the bullied to stand up for themselves, we need to show the bullies that it’s okay to let their guard down sometimes and that togetherness and cooperation is much more fulfilling than the temporary pain relief that bullying provides.

If we can shift our perspective from “the bullied are the victims” to “both the bullied and the bullies are victims of the system we’ve created”, I think it gives us a more accurate picture of the situation, as well as encourages us to think about our own part in the problem.  While the “I commit to a bully-free life” slogan on the pink t-shirts does point the finger to ourselves rather than the bullies, it is good only so long as it doesn’t become smug indignation or a sly way of finger pointing (i.e. “Well, I don’t bully, but I know some people that do.”)

I would have rather seen a “Blow a Bully” movement, but maybe the world is not quite ready for that.   Oh well, I’m going to start it anyways.  So if I walk up to you in a restaurant and eat your lunch, you’ll know what to do.

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