Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day

I was bullied.  And that experience helped me become who I am today. 

First some background into Pink Shirt Day.

The last Wednesday of February is known as Anti-Bullying Day in Canada. It’s also known as “Pink Shirt Day” when participants are asked to wear pink to symbolize a stand against bullying. The original event was organized by David Shepherd and Travis Price who bought and distributed 50 pink shirts after a student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt on the first day of school.

In 2008, then Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell proclaimed February 27 to be the provincial anti-bullying day and tomorrow is Pink Day across Canada.    

As a pre-teen, I grew up in a predominantly white upper-middle class neighbourhood on the west side of Vancouver called West Point Grey.  While my family is Irish, I am adopted, my naturally good looks being the result of a pairing between an English-Canadian and a Spanish-American.  For those of you who know me how, you might be quite surprised to hear that I was pretty dark skinned as a child.

Worse, I was shorter than average for my age, and was considered to be a bit of a nerd because I was smarter than the average bear.  In 1977, I was part of a pilot project in the Vancouver school system called Learning Enrichment Class (LEC) which was for children who were at the top of their class.  It was a few hours a week and we did a lot of problem solving and logic based games.  I was also one of the first people I know to play logic games on the internet in 1977, although that’s not what it was called.  It was a terminal at our school connected to a main frame at Simon Fraser University on a LAN/Intranet.

Pretty cool.  In 1980 I built my first computer and in 1982 I was programming in DOS.  Then I met girls and realized that nerds didn’t cut it.  Although now I am back being a nerd again in the business world.

In summary.  Short.  Nerd. Latino.

So, in this environment, I was the subject to some bullying by guys who were a lot bigger than me.  It wasn’t pleasant, and I had three choices.  I could ignore it.  I could accept it.  I could reject it.  I chose the latter.

I stood up to my bullies by quite simply hurling my body at them and hitting them.  In this post Columbine society where everyone is scared that standing up to bullies means taking out an Uzi, my comments are probably not politically correct.

I remember one guy, Peter, who was relentless and about twice my size.  This was compounded by the fact that I was in a split grade 5/6 class; me being in the 5th.  One day I had enough of his teasing, and I picked up my desk in the middle of class and threw it at him.  The teacher had to pull me off him.  Peter was never an issue again and we just kept our distance.  In fact, his friends respected me from that day forward.

Another time in grade 8, I was playing floor hockey with another equally objectionable young man who used to tease me non-stop.  He was the kind of guy who would stuff the smaller students into lockers.  You know the guy.  Well, one day I had enough and ended up chasing him around the gym with my hockey stick during gym class.  And I got some good hits in before being pulled off by students and the PE teacher.  And once again, never an issue with this guy again. 

And I was once accused of pushing a girl named Mary down the stairs.  You cannot imagine the grief of explaining to my parents that I was innocent.  We ended up going over to Mary’s house and having her parents and my parents all working out what had happened.  I was vindicated.  It turned out a boy named David had pushed her and she had a crush on me, ergo the accusation.  He ended up being suspended from school. 

So now we have Pink Day to stop bullying.  Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.  Bullying behavior can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims. Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Bullying has even been reported in online chat rooms, through e-mail and on social networking sites.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment. And that’s where it gets stupid.

Parents need to watch the emotions of their children.  And parents of bullies are just as complicit in the problems their offspring cause. 

If I had to do it all again, I sure as heck wouldn’t wear a pink shirt to school once a year.  I would do what I did first time around and fight back.

Standing up to bullies earned me the respect of my classmates, and arguably gave me moxy.  It taught me not to back down, while at the same time being able to recognize problematic situations before they arose.  This is something that I have taken with me into the business world where I respect the ‘small guy’ and will tear apart the guy who attacks me in the boardroom. 

Only this time my weapon of choice is a verbal volley or a writ.  Not a desk.