This week I was witness to a Pink Shirt Day rally at East Three School.
It was an impressive showing of solidarity, with prizes given out to students for random acts of kindness and police officers joining the youth in a game of basketball.
I continue to find it admirable the public school system champions this effort, though it’s easy to understand why — on the receiving end of an infinite wave of feedback from parents, schools have got a very clear understanding that parents don’t want their kids feeling unsafe at school.
But it seems in the fight against bullying, schools are largely shouldering the burden alone. This is unfortunate, as bullying is easily one of the biggest ongoing problems we face as a species. Many criminal acts can be thought of as an extreme form of bullying — domestic abuse stands out in particular. Similarly, most of our political problems stem from historic bullying — colonialism was a gigantic exercise in the act — or are typically resolved by bullying. Utilizing social media, far too many politicians weaponize their loyal followers to harass and intimidate their critics, opponents and legitimate journalists. An entire class of people exists that apparently spend their time finding political opponents messages and hitting “laugh” icons to apparently make their statement invalid in some legal form of psychological warfare, and political trolls are well identified by those in the know of their particular circles.
You probably are thinking this is just human nature, but is it? Or is it possible we’ve just become so accustomed to tolerating, accommodating and even rewarding bullies — a former U.S. president comes to mind — that we just cannot imagine anything else.
Adult life is dominated by bullying, some unavoidable, such as the overarching authority of the law or the fact you may have to routinely tolerate very annoying people to pay your bills. But we take it for granted adult bullies need to be catered to or tolerated, or that the skills we learn to survive school necessarily transfer over to the workforce. Walking away from the big kid insulting your parents is one thing — walking away from your boss screaming at you is quite another. Investigating doxxing and other forms of online bullying in small environments like schools is hard enough — adults with enough knowledge to do serious damage to someone professionally could be literally anywhere.
Again, the problem isn’t just that adults appear to abandon the lessons about bullying taught in school, it’s that bullying has become a viable source of income. As noted above, social media is overflowing with political pundits and bots pushing memes to make me angry at their political opponents. Most of the information I hear from these sources is dubious at best and is usually just plain bogus. But it’s everywhere and it can’t all be volunteers — somebody has to be paying for this garbage.
If you’re someone who wonders why only certain types of people ever run for government, ask yourself — would you like a bad photo of yourself circulated online with insulting statements millions of times? How about an image of yourself taped to the front of a truck, implying you should be run over? Thousands of people you’ve never even met calling for your head because someone who wants your job told them something false about you? Our politics is so tolerant of bullies there’s hardly room for anyone else, aside from those few who can deal with them.
So I commend the efforts of Pink Shirt Day, but until adults accept we’re the problem our schools’ work will yield limited results.