Pink Shirt Attitude in Action

In 2007, two Canadian high school students noticed a new boy getting bullied for wearing a pink shirt. They dealt with the situation in a most creative way, buying up a load of cheap pink shirts and messaging all their friends, so that the next day the school was a sea of pink. Pink Shirt Day was born.

What’s remarkable about this clever response is that it did not involve naming and shaming the bullies. Rather than ‘calling them out’, which would have caused further conflict and made them defensive, the bullies were ‘called in’ to join the anti-bullying movement. As were all the other students, who might otherwise have remained passive witnesses to intimidating behaviour.

Years ago, as a new social worker, I was with a client when a group of other clients started calling out insults to her. At the time I didn’t intervene, thinking, “That’s between them.” Now I understand that what I witnessed was unacceptable and that I should have spoken up. Or I could have simply shown support for my client, role modelling respect for her as a person. It’s clear to me now that bystanders who ignore bad behaviour play a huge role in allowing and even encouraging it to persist.

So when you proudly wear your anti-bullying shirt on Friday, I invite you to think about what standing against bullying might look like in practice. It doesn’t have to mean causing a scene and it certainly isn’t about bullying the bullies. Stand against the behaviour, firstly by not participating in disrespectful acts like gossip or demeaning jokes, but also, importantly, not ignoring it when others do so. Instead, call the bullies into behaving better by letting them know that you hold them to a higher standard.

Stephanie Hills ©


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