“Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke.” —Benjamin Disraeli
It’s strange. We teach our kids that bullying is bad. Yet we live in a culture that glorifies bullying as a way of life. And then we’re surprised when they’re confused, or that they look at adults as if we were blowing smoke in their faces. Kids—especially teenagers, whose senses are keenly honed to injustice and hypocrisy—can spot it a kilometer away. Don’t think they can’t.
And now thanks to two plucky, fair-minded teens from a Nova Scotia high school, we have Pink Shirt Day—a no-bullying zone in schools. The inspiration comes from David Shepherd and Travis Price, senior students who took a stand on behalf of a Grade 9 boy who was being bullied. They bought a bagful of pink shirts, handed them out to students as they entered school, and declared a no-bullying day. “As they stood in the foyer handing out the shirts, the bullied boy walked in. His face spoke volumes. ‘It looked like a huge weight was lifted off his shoulders,’ Price recalled. ‘The bullies were never heard from again.’” (http://www.pinkshirtday.ca/about/)
Now that’s resourceful! That’s justice in action. But one wonders if their Social Studies teachers might follow up on Pink Shirt Day with some Bullying 101. They could begin by doing a quick survey of the wars that have plagued humanity for the past 6,000 years or so. From the earliest hominids shoving for prime place by the winter fire; to the first Mesopotamian city-states forming imperial ambitions and conquering their neighbour cities; to the recent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the West to preserve the oil lifeline, it seems bullying has been with us for some time. Speaking as someone with Irish ancestry, it’s arguable that the monarchy—of whatever nation—have built their empires and fortunes on bullying. Note that the king or queen is generally accompanied by the biggest army and the best weapons.
Depending on your political persuasion, you could argue that all I’m doing is giving a lesson in Human Nature 101. It’s not surprising that those with imperial ambitions—today we might substitute ‘corporate’ for ‘imperial’—would rationalize bullying behaviour as simply a practical demonstration of human nature. After all, it has served them well. You only have to look at how much gold they own, metaphorically speaking. But then, if they’re truly cut from such cynical cloth, they might let slip that money isn’t about wealth anyway, it’s about power. And particularly in capitalist societies. As anti-poverty advocates are constantly reminding us, there’s plenty to go around. So if it’s not lack of resources preventing poverty from occurring, there have to be other reasons, not the least of which has to do with maintaining power. It’s incredible to think of a rich country like Canada having a 15% child poverty rate, with BC at over 16%. That’s 1 in 5 BC kids.
Alas, it seems we have a long way to go before we as a society adopt the feminist principle of ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over.’ Take a look around you. Right here in British Columbia, we have a government—elected by the people—who have told nearly 30 municipalities and the organization that represents ALL of the cities, towns and villages of this province (Union of BC Municipalities) that even though they don’t want ‘smart’ meters, they’re getting them. Then with money taken out of rates paid by BC Hydro customers, they send out a public relations team to blanket the media with assurances that it’s simply “modernizing the grid,” will save gazillions of dollars even though it costs a billion to set up, and won’t emit enough wireless radiation to hurt a fly. (Mutate it maybe, but not hurt it…) To really cap it off with a big-time hooter, they go so far as to claim that the 25,000 studies done on microwave radiation during the past 35 years or so prove no evidence of harm, when in fact the reverse would be the appropriate conclusion. But then, scientists are for sale these days the same as anything else, for the right price.
Then look at corporate ‘governance.’ It’s really a modern-day feudal hierarchy, with a supreme monarch (CEO) at the top, and various grades of underlings in power below that. As I recently asked English classes at a local high school, why should the top CEOs of Canada earn a thousand times more in the first two days of January than the combined wages of two working parents for a year? (Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) This ignores the basic fact that without the millions of people who work for these people in their offices, factories and retail establishments, they would have nothing. Sure, those who work hard to earn a place in the executive class may have more smarts, more innovative ways of making money than the average Joe or Jane. That still doesn’t entitle them to 1,000 or 10,000 times more money per day. It’s economic bullying, pure and simple.
And now the latest story to break here in the political Mordor that is British Columbia is that bullying is rife within the BC civil service, to the point where one employee was pushed very near the brink of suicide. And here we thought it was only our kids, being bullied into suicide by Facebook and Twitter goblins. In an article in The Province by Michael Smyth, it’s described by one civil servant as “rampant as the plague.” Well, big surprise there. Neocons like disgraced Premier Campbell have been forcing government to copy corporate practice now for at least the past decade, from the halls of the Provincial Legislature to a beleaguered regional school board forced to balance budgets as if it were some kind of retail franchise justifying itself to a corporate Head Office. Fiscal accountability is all very well, but taken to an extreme it sacrifices human beings on the altar of economic efficiency.
For those of us whose childhoods were one long ordeal of playground and classroom bullying, none of this is a surprise. If you grew up in the ’60s having to wear glasses as I did (in those days glasses were ‘uncool’ for some reason); or were overweight, or had a stutter, then you ran the gauntlet every time you set foot on the school grounds. Living in a northern BC sawmill town, you either learned to fight or run. I sometimes did both.
It’s fabulous that most schools now have an official anti-bullying policy. It’s wonderful that conscientious, hardworking teachers are devoting time from an already onerous schedule to teach kids that bullying is just wrong, and won’t be tolerated. But how will they view that advice when they learn more about the society we live in? You could hardly blame them if they thought we were blowing smoke in their faces.