This article originally appeared in Boston’s The Jewish Advocate on March 25, 2015.
A LESSON ON BULLYING: PINK SHIRT DAY
By Miriam Porter / Advocate correspondent
“Children – and adults – can learn from anti-bullying efforts”
Last month my son’s school had their annual Pink Shirt Day. Students were asked to wear pink to show their support for an anti-bullying campaign. It all started in 2007 when a male grade nine Nova Scotia high school student was bullied for wearing pink. But two teenagers in his school and their friends decided to take a stand against his bullying. They distributed pink t-shirts to all the boys in their school in solidarity for the one boy that was being bullied. Once all the boys were seen wearing pink, the bullying stopped. Now eight years later it’s a fast growing day of awareness.
Pink Shirt Day originated in Canada, but has spread to other countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, some cities call it anti-bullying day. In 2012, the United Nations declared an official anti-bullying day and schools around the world now take part.
The night before Pink Shirt Day I spoke to my son Noah about bullying as we choose his clothes together. This year, grade three; he decided he would wear pink. But it was only two years ago that my shy sensitive boy refused. I asked him to reflect on why he wouldn’t wear pink in grade one. “I was afraid that people would say pink is only for girls and not be nice to me. I didn’t want them to say that. So I didn’t wear it that year. But the next year in grade two I wore it”. He continues smiling, “And they didn’t say anything. It was fine”.
But what would have happened had he actually been bullied for wearing a pink shirt? (On anti-bullying day no less!) As a mom I believe it’s really important to talk to kids about anti-bullying techniques and what to do if they see kids in their school being bullied. Since Noah started kindergarten I have taught him age appropriate ways to ignore bullying behavior, stand up for himself, speak up for others, physically leave a bad situation, and report bullying behavior.
If kids stand by and do nothing but just watch, or support or encourage a bully’s actions or words, they are enabling the bully to continue and not helping the person that needs it. Quite often when bystanders stand up to a bully they actually stop, since an audience is usually integral to the situation. Bullying is not okay and should have a zero tolerance level not just in schools for kids, but for us grown-ups too. (After all, aren’t we just big kids?)
When I think of bullying in terms of Judaism, lashon hara comes to mind. These word translate into English as “evil tongue” and is the term for derogatory speech about another person. If the speech is harmful or mean, it’s lashon hara and considered a negative sin.
When I first learned about lashon hara,it was in reference to those Hollywood gossip magazines filled mostly with lies about the private lives of celebrities. They keep popping up in front of me when I’m in line for groceries, at the hair salon, and virtually every pedicure shop in Toronto. But reading the mindless gossip that lets me escape my life for 30 minutes really has the potential to be hurtful to the people it references. I have tried to set an example for Noah and not speak badly about others, including gossiping. I don’t have a lot of rules of what Noah can’t say in our home as long as it’s respectful, but two words that he knows are forbidden are “stupid” and “hate”. These words are powerfully negative and we never use them in any context.
Judaism recognizes how potent speech can be and the destruction negative language may cause. In fact, it is suggested that harmful speech is worse than stealing or taking someone’s money. The idea behind this theory is that money can be repaid, but the damage caused by hurtful speech can never be fixed.
In Leviticus 25:17 it is written, “You shall not wrong one another.” It has been said this scripture refers to verbal wrongs specifically done by words. Any speech that will insult, deceive or cause that person emotional suffering or anguish is not allowed.
But most of the time, since becoming a mom almost nine years ago, I have noticed it doesn’t seem to be the children who need to watch their harmful words nearly as much as us grownups. We need to remember that words have the potential to hurt others and carry severe consequences to the people they are directed at. So let Pink Shirt Day be a reminder to us to be kind and loving to each other.
As Thumper the rabbit says in the Disney classic “Bambi,” “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all.”