Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pink Shirt Day: We need a conversion of hearts

Yesterday was Pink Shirt Day; a day to remind kids (and the rest of us) to take a stand against bullying; a day to drive home the message that bullying is unacceptable.

Kids can be nasty, and nastiness has taken on a whole new dimension in the digital age. In the old days, when I was a kid, we'd chant the ditty "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me" with aplomb when someone was mean to us. Of course, the names hurt us, but someone else would join in the chant and the bully ended up being the person on the outside of the group. The bully ended up feeling like a jerk.

In the digital age, bullying has taken on a whole new dimension. The bully can relentlessly, anonomously, and viciously badger their victim with, quite literally, deadly results. 

It is not only kids who are bullies. Teachers can also be bullies, subtly using their position of authority to demean students in front of their peers. Bullying frequently occurs in the workplace, and carries with it both an economic and social cost.

The newspaper in my home town reported on the activities that area schools had planned for Pink Shirt Day with a front page article and colour photo of students in pink shirts. One high school  gave students the chance to trace their hand and sign a piece of paper as a pledge to raise awareness of bullying and to stop it. While this is an engaging activity, with an admirable goal, it will fail unless there is also a conversion of  hearts. 

We need to become nicer people. 

The Italians have a term, "sympatico", which they use sparingly to describe a person.  It is a hard term to translate.  It is more than being nice in the sense of being pleasant and polite. My understanding of "sympatico" is that the person has an uncommon ability of always being attuned to others, and conducts themselves with sensitivity, kindness, and compassion. Not a push over or a doormat, the person who is sympatico is also humble and self-giving.  To be described as "sympatico" is an honour. 

Our aim might be to become "sympatico", but until we do, maybe we should aim to be consistently polite and pleasant to others, and model it for our kids. 

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