Wednesday February 24th, 2021 is Pink Shirt Day. A Canadian initiative, the idea began at a rural high school in Nova Scotia when a grade 9 boy was harassed for wearing a pink shirt to school. Two senior male students decided enough was enough, and launched the first Day of Pink to invite folks to take a stand against discrimination and harassment. Their efforts have spread across the country, and now everyone is encouraged to wear pink to show support against bullying, discrimination and homophobia.
The increased awareness of bullying and harassment are tremendous steps forward in our society. But we have to do more. One day every few months when schools, communities and workplaces rally to present a united front against those who would seek to perpetrate violence or abuse against others is a great start, but we have to go farther.
Our society as a whole is facing a crisis. Road rage, racial discrimination, adults who choose to post personal opinions that attack others directly or indirectly – the culture of negativity and violence permeates our lives. Just last week I was watching a favourite guilty pleasure, Dancing with the Stars. One of the contestants shared that after her first appearance on the show she received threatening emails, and people posted hurtful and derogatory comments about her. And the other day while pumping gas I was verbally assaulted by another customer who believed that I had cut him off when parking at the pump.
As a psychologist, I am curious about what has happened in our world that we are faced with such behaviour. Where is our compassion, our tolerance, our respect for others? I have a few theories, but no solid answers to my questions. But I do think I have come up with some things we can do that may help the situation.
1. Participate in the days that promote tolerance
… like International Day of Pink and Pink Shirt Day and any others we come across. Take the opportunity presented by days like this to bring the issues into the open, in our homes, schools and workplaces. Talk about your culture: What is working? What needs to change?
2. Create policies, procedures and ground rules that support a safe, tolerant, inclusive environment
We can find signage in many offices, hospitals, etc., that declare a zero-tolerance for abuse. Do we have such signs in our homes? Our classrooms? Our offices? If there aren’t any, should there be?
3. Start with yourself
Do you find your blood pressure rising if someone “steals” your parking space, or cuts you off in traffic, or tries to check out 20 items in the “15 items or less” line when you are in a rush to get the kids from the daycare so you can start supper because you have two separate soccer practices to get to at two different fields? The pace of life is insanely busy. Check your own levels of stress and be sure you aren’t vulnerable to the bursts of anger or intolerance we see around us. Consider developing a mindfulness mindset, meditating or using whatever stress-relieving practice you find helpful.
4. Be a force for good
Are your online posts positive, or negative? How much time do you spend complaining? What are your biases? Figure out how you can influence things in a positive, uplifting manner. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I often repeat one of my favourite Margaret Mead quotes:
When people rally together to support causes for good, things do change.
Think of the high school kids mentioned earlier. So let’s all wear pink, and then let’s take it one step farther to heal the world and put an end to the bullying everywhere!
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