This week I sent our daughter off to school in a pink shirt, after a lengthy discussion (as discussions with five-year-olds go) about why it’s important to speak up when someone is being hurtful to someone else. We talked about why anyone can wear any colour they want, how we can disagree with someone without being mean, and that yes, she can most certainly be a scientist if she wishes. It was her first Pink Shirt Day.
I remember the original Pink Shirt Day; I covered it as a journalist. It was 10 years ago in rural Nova Scotia. Two kids stepped up and showed leadership skills and creativity – and it captured imaginations across the province, the country, and the world.
A Grade 9 student at Central Kings Rural High School wore a pink polo shirt on the first day of school in 2007. A boy wearing pink brought out the worst in some students. He was taunted and told to expect a beating. This brought out the best in some other students. Grade 12 friends David Shepherd and Travis Price went to the local thrift store and bought 50 pink shirts. They handed out the tops and emailed friends to tell them to wear pink to school the next day. Support grew faster than they expected, and hundreds of students showed up wearing pink the following morning.
It was a strong statement that showed the power to defeat bullying lies within us all; not because we ‘stand up’ to bullies, but because we stand together as community.
Last year, the chair of Pink Shirt Day NB, Andrew J. LeBlanc, wrote a commentary for the Times & Transcript that articulated this perfectly. He wrote: “To stand against ‘bullies’ (or fellow students, community members, etc.) serves to alienate others who may also be desperately in need of support…[Pink Shirt Day] is about creating a generation of people who work together to create a community where hurtful behaviour has no impact because the community is rooted in safety, resiliency, respect, and belonging.”
It’s easier than ever to see the damage an ‘us vs. them’ approach can have on society. We can look at politics in the United States or the language debates here at home. Pitting one person’s values against another’s doesn’t bring us to a better place. It brings us to anger and seclusion and the worst of ourselves as society.
One of the more interesting articles I’ve read this year was written by a Venezuelan economist. He talked about the power of populism and stated one must not feed polarization, but disarm it. Constantly comparing bully to victim, Anglophone to Francophone, or facts to fake news is not the way to move the discussion forward. We must look carefully at the root of our divides and work to build the common ground, or we drown in the gulfs we create between us.
This week our children heard about the power of positive actions. They learned that supporting a classmate who is hurting, for whatever reason, builds up that individual’s confidence as well as their own. It’s not unlike what we’ve all been learning with #BeccaToldMeTo; kind acts encourage more kind acts, until your whole community is feeling connected and supported in a way no one had imagined.
I remember calling David Shepherd and Travis Price on the phone at their high school 10 years ago. There was a contagious excitement and sense of hope in their voices. They had realized that real change can come from the smallest actions, and when those actions are positive, our world becomes a better place – one pink shirt at a time.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.