Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pink Shirt Day

As some of you may already be aware, today is Pink Shirt Day. For those of you who do not there is the link provided and I will also give you a brief overview of Pink Shirt Day. This particular day strikes a cord that resonates deep within me because I too suffered at the hands of multiple bullies during my school years. I felt that today, a day set aside to help bring an end to bullying, would be the ideal time to share with you how it feels to be bullied; at least from my perspective.

Pink Shirt Day is the last day in February of each year and is dedicated to promoting the end to bullying. A fellow classmate of mine, Travis Price, and his high school friend, David Sheperd, started this campaign as a result of bullying at their school. A new student wore a pink shirt to school and was in turn tortured unmercifully by some of his peers; bullies. Travis and David managed to gather several boxes of pink shirts and returned to school, handing them out to all the students. As a result, these two young men helped to bring safety and acceptance to a victim of bullying but even more so, to fight back against bullying through non-violence. It has since become an annual day to help end bullying.

Those of you who have known me for a long time no doubt know that I was bullied or picked on through school. Those that don't, well I still look the same as I did back then except my glasses are slightly more stylish than they used to be. Today I am very happy and proud to be known as a geek or a nerd; back then, not so much. I always did well in school when it came to tests and projects. If it wasn't an A, then I was barely putting in an effort. I looked the part and I reflected the part.

I can remember the first time I actually remember being bullied. I was in the fourth grade. That was the year I first got my glasses. To say that it was a difficult year would be a little generous. In retrospect it is silly, but as an impressionable child names like nerd, four-eyes, freak and loser are as hurtful as any punch in the face; in fact I may have preferred that as at least then I could have fought back in some way.

The glasses and nerd stigma were just the beginning of my troubles. I have contemplated sharing this next bit of information to try and save feelings but after careful consideration the blame here lies in the bullies, not the person to whom I shall now speak. My father was a teacher. He was also the Vice-Principal of the school he taught at for some time. His school, at the time, was renowned as the last stop. This is the school where all the kids who had been expelled from every other school ended up. We're talking students who can legally drive in a Primary to Grade 8 school. The point is that one of the things I have always admired of my father is that he is just and fair. Unfortunately, just and fair in a classroom full of problem students is interpreted as...well, I think you know. Needless to say many of the students who took issue with my father as a teacher took their vengeance out on me. Again, in case you're reading this dad, I really, really need you to understand that you are as good, fair and just a man as any can be. That your students then were already set on resisting authority, it is no surprise that they would be angry at someone who was as just as you. Keep reading though dad, there is something for you near the end about those students.

As a victim of being bullied, I must confess that there were very few occasions where the bullying was more than psychological. Psychological bullying to a child with a heightened sense of emotion and thought can be as damaging as fists and kicks. There were many times that I prayed to be someone different; many times I cried when I was alone; many times I felt shame and embarrassment over being myself. I hated that time of my life. Then I went to High School.

Prior to High School, I had very few encounters with bullies from my father's school. When I went to High School, that changed. After half a year, I took on the belief that in order to stop the bullying, my best bet was to become part of their crowd; accepted. I started smoking cigarettes, I started drinking, I started getting bad marks (I actually had to do that on purpose; remember I am a nerd.), I started smoking marijuana and just generally stopped acting like I cared. You can look at my High School transcripts if you want to see the results of this adaptation for survival. They strongly reflect it. It wasn't a complete success; I still suffered at the hands of some of them but all and all, I was left to myself. I eventually changed High Schools over an unrelated matter.

What I want to share with you now is very important to me because every time this has happened, it has come at a time in my life where I was in a really dark place psychologically. Those bullies, not all of them to date but a large majority, have all sought me out and apologized to me. That's not a typo. Not only have they apologized to me but they have mentioned specific moments, unbeknownst to them, that were particularly painful to me. And as though that were not enough, each one who was a student of my father (this one is for you dad) has confessed to me how much they regret their behavior in his classroom, how much they respected him and the way he handled their behavior and that they wish they could go back and have him as a teacher because he was the best teacher they had ever had. I won't mention names because they are not important; the importance is their actions.

I know that for most, they will never get the closure that I have been fortunate enough to have. The apologies and kindness of my past tormenters has always come at a time when I felt like I could take no more; when I was running out of hope. Those who were the shadows of darkness in my life later became the beacon of light when I was lost in an abyss of despair. I want you to know that it gets better. I still have self-esteem and self-confidence issues as a result of what I endured. To know me one would question that but it is truth. I project outwardly the most that which I lack and fear the most. I do it to inspire others but more importantly, I do it to inspire myself.

So today, as you go about your daily lives, try and think about what it might feel like to be bullied. If you were a bully, let me tell you something: find that person and tell them you're sorry (if you truly are) for whatever. DO NOT BE EMBARRASSED. We all make mistakes along the journey of life, some we can fix, others we cannot. An apology will not erase that which has been done nor the damage. What it will do however, is help the process of healing. You may not think that it will make any difference but I swear to you, even if it has been 30 years or more, it will mean the world. I hope today that just one bully understands what their actions are doing and seeks help. Although they may be a bully, don't forget that they are victims to. You don't wake up and decide to be a bully; you learn it.

Take a moment to help spread the word. Wear a pink shirt, or anything pink for that matter. Have a Twitter account? Find and follow Travis Price or Pink Shirt Day; hashtag #PinkShirtDay or just promote it in general. The suffering has gone on long enough, for both the bullies and the victims. We can help make it stop.