February 24th is acknowledged as “Pink Shirt Day,” which represents the importance of taking a stand against bullying in our schools, workplaces, and community. The Pink Shirt Movement originated in 2007 when two Canadian students took a stand against homophobic bullying by wearing pink shirts to school.(1) This was prompted by a bullying incident where a male student experienced harassment for wearing pink.(1) Pink Shirt Day has generated immense support over the years expanding its reach and anti-bullying initiatives worldwide.
Bullying is still very much a prevalent issue, happening online and off-line, in schools and communities. Bullying is a form of aggression where a person has power over the person being victimized.(1) The impact of bullying can be detrimental to individuals’ self-esteem and self-worth. Ongoing bullying can be damaging to individuals’ psychological and physical well-being, and in some more severe cases lead to self-harm behaviours, mental health issues, suicidal ideation, and suicide. The increasing number of suicides following repeated harassment from peers is a tragic reminder of the urgency to take a stand against bullying.
Bullying can perpetuate cycles of trauma for both the individual experiencing the bullying and for the individual inflicting harm. It is important to recognize there are different types of bullying, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, social abuse (spreading rumours or excluding), and a new predominant concern—cyber bullying.(1) Cyber bullying has become increasingly more common due to the increased use, access, and dependency to online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger, and Snapchat. The use of technology often escalates bullying severity, as the individual inflicting the harassment can easily hide behind their keyboard and does not see, nor understand the impact they may be having on the person being victimized. Discrimination towards someone based on their physical attributes, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, family status, or disability is another common form of bullying.
Student-led initiatives are an important step in the anti-bullying movement, advocating and building awareness in schools and communities. One way to do this is to create safe spaces for open dialogue in schools around the topic of bullying. To remain sustainable, the anti-bullying movement needs to grow to a pro-empathy movement. Empathy allows you to demonstrate compassion and understanding towards another person’s experience and how they might be feeling. Implementation of no-tolerance bullying policies in schools, community spaces, sport organizations, and workplaces is also an essential component of the anti-bullying movement. Accountability and repercussions for bullying and harassment is a key influencer in helping to prevent the cycle of trauma surrounding bullying.
Respect Group is a Canadian company founded by former NHL Hockey star and Child Abuse Advocate Sheldon Kennedy and business partner Wayne McNeil. Respect Group is a leading business in the movement against bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination in sport, schools, and workplaces.(2) The business mandate “respect matters” is making an impact in communities across North America, educating individuals and groups on how to address bullying and foster supportive, psychologically safe environments through the delivery of online workshops and trainings.(2)
It’s important that as individuals we do our part by taking action and standing up against bullying. In doing so, this will continue to support widespread social change and a pro-empathy movement to foster positive culture change in our schools, communities, workplaces, organizations, and online. This Wednesday February 24th, 2021 wear pink, practice kindness, and have conversations around the impacts of bullying. To see the change, we must embody the change.