Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Perfectly Ordinary Shirt Day

I'll put my hatred of bullying, and contempt for the bullies themselves, up against anyone's. I have a visceral reaction to any abuse of power or authority.

This holds true whether we're talking about bullies on the playground, or anywhere else in life. Members of Parliament who intimate that objecting to their proposal implies you're in league with child pornographers, thuggish cops whose first interaction with a distraught foreigner is to taser him to death, teachers who run screeching to the police to arrest a man because his four-year-old daughter draws a picture of a gun, or people who think it's OK to kill babies in the name of convenience, and hey, it's not like they can fight back - they're all cut from the same cloth as playground tyrants, and I want them all knocked off their high horses. Hard.

However, as much as I deplore bullying in all its forms, I won't conform for the sake of an empty gesture.

Tomorrow is Pink Shirt Day, intended to demonstrate opposition to bullying. There will probably be millions of people, including lots of them at my son's school and my workplace, wearing pink shirts under the delusion that a momentary meaningless gesture of solidarity will dispel the satisfaction that bullies get from exercising brute force. Their intentions are good, but on Thursday they'll be dressing normally and the Nelsons of the world will resume business as usual.

This display will do nothing to dissuade bullies, mainly because bullies aren't very smart. If they were, they'd be far more frightened of possible consequences of their behaviour, like the school shooting currently playing out in Ohio. Interestingly, earlier today I saw reports saying that the (alleged...) shooter was a favourite target for his school's bullies. Those seem to have now been scrubbed offline.

That's the sole upside of school shootings: the hope that somewhere a bully will furrow their unibrow and wonder whether that little spaz they torment might do the same to them if pushed too far, and back off. I'd rather they back off out of personal growth, but in the interim fear will do. And no, that tiny upside doesn't mitigate the tragic downside.

Anti-bullying has entered the fashionable mainstream. That's only because now it's politically useful to some people to call attention to some of the victims. Kids have always been picked on by other kids. Some can take it, some can't (which is not meant to denigrate those who can't, because they shouldn't have to). The awkward kids, shy kids, tall kids, short kids, fat kids, smart kids, homely kids, and yes, those kids who don't conform to the mainstream stereotypes of masculinity or femininity, as the case may be, have always gotten picked on. The worst thing a kid can be in the eyes of other kids is different. And everybody tisked and muttered about how that shouldn't be, but it went on more or less unabated for millenia.

But now it's intolerable and the greatest scourge of our society because of the fashionable (take that as a pun if you like) victims.

"It gets better" is a message for all kids, not just those in trendy subcultures.

As for me, I will not be wearing a pink shirt tomorrow, partly because I don't own one but more because I'm largely immune to peer pressure. This is closely related to my near-total lack of social skills and inability to understand normal human interaction.

This immunity has some downsides. Sometimes it's wise to go with the herd, because there be tigers in the other direction. On the other hand, not caring (or often, even realizing) what everyone else is doing lets you skip over a lot of nonsense in life. I rather like it when I look at the magazines in the supermarket checkout aisle and don't recognize any of the people on the covers.

I'm actually hoping that one of our office cheerleaders calls me out tomorrow for not wanting to play this latest reindeer game. If and when they do, I'm going to make a loud spectacle out of asking them why they're singling me out for negative attention just because I don't conform to their expectations. I'll grow increasingly (mock-) distraught as I proclaim how much they're hurting my feelings by picking on me for dressing differently from them.

Then I'll abruptly shut off the histrionics and thank them, because I feed on irony. Their lack of self-awareness is like manna to me, the sweet nectar of paradise. I may lapse into a Montgomery Burns impression for this stage of the bit.

"But Z-Dog," you may interject at this point, "if you do this to some poor unsuspecting sap, won't that make you, kind of, well... a bully?"

To which I reply, "Don't call me Z-Dog. You sound like an idiot." Also, "Yes."

The best answer to bullying, unfortunately, is a bigger bully. We live in a fallen world, wherein every last member of the dominant species is corrupted by sin. The best of us isn't very good. The best we can ever hope for is that the bully at the top of the food chain is benevolent. This is why I'm quite content with America being the dominant world power for the last few decades. Yes, she occasionally throws her weight around, but virtually always with good intentions and often to good ends.

In summation, I hate bullying (but not the bullies themselves, a crucial distinction) of any sort as much as anyone, but I'm not interested in meaningless gestures that consist largely of leveraging peer pressure to force conformity, itself a concept dear to every bully's heart. I'll stick with knocking the feet out from under bullies at every opportunity, and encouraging others to do the same.

And I don't wait until the victims are a politically correct group.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of round Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger dolls that look like they could be wadded into balls for easy storage. I call them Poohkemon.

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