Pink Shirt Day is this Wednesday, February 26. Now a worldwide movement, the Pink Shirt campaign was developed in Nova Scotia in 2007 to raise awareness about bullying in our schools. The idea caught on, encouraging communities to find ways to proactively deal with this problem. And now it has morphed into something much larger, often observed on different dates in many countries around the world.
Bullying in any form and at any age is a serious problem. We are used to hearing about it in schools and universities, but not as much in the workplace or social settings. Nor, do we hear much about its effect on adults who experience it.
And it affects our health – individually, and collectively. Take work life as an example. One study from the Workplace Bullying Institute suggests that 71% of people who felt they were bullied at work were treated by a physician for related health concerns. In another study, 63% saw a mental health professional.
Last year, Worksafe BC introduced new policies meant to address this problem. They are aimed at helping employers and employees take action to create a healthy workplace environment. It’s too soon to tell whether the policies are effective, but recognizing the problem and taking some action is a good start.
However, there is a part we can all play in helping ourselves and each other to address the problems of bullying. Recently, a friend of mine was having a really tough time with her boss, who was a consummate bully. Christie felt intimidated, worthless and helpless. “Every weekend I just cry, dreading having to go back to work,” she confided in me. She was depressed and having headaches. Sleeping was difficult. When I asked her whether she had thought about leaving the job, she said, “Yes, but I can’t afford to leave. I need the money.” She never considered standing up to this bully, as suggested in an article she had read on this problem, because to do so would jeopardize her job. She felt trapped and helpless. “Guess I will just have to bear it,” she sighed. “For the next 30 years?” I asked – aghast at the idea she could never leave. Somehow, putting that number on it broke the spell. We both laughed. In that moment she knew that a new approach was needed.
Christie’s thought had shifted from thinking she was cornered, to realizing she had options. What she realized is that it is not just the bully out there – her boss in this case – but the bully within that told her this man was right. He had convinced her that she was stupid, unimaginative and lazy, and that led to her feeling powerless and trapped.
I had also noticed that Christie was very critical of herself. It was as if she had been educated to agree with all the bullying accusations. It turns out she had been bullied at school as a child. It was a learned pattern.
This mistaken view of herself was the bully she needed to first stand up to and confront.
We cannot build confidence with criticism. Rather, than self-condemnation for shortcomings, recognizing one’s mistakes with gentleness and compassion is what makes change possible and builds inner strength.
There are self-help books in abundance on the subject of bullying, some more helpful than others. However, it is not a modern problem. It was addressed over two thousand years ago by an inspiring man who knew he would be viciously persecuted for thinking differently. Jesus’ healing ministry and teaching defended the downtrodden at that time, but continues to offer a wealth of ideas that turn us away from the fault-ridden model we hold of ourselves. He shines a light on a better, spiritually defined model – the core of who we are. He told his followers “the kingdom of heaven is within.” This discovery helps us let go of the educated belief that faults are within us, and let’s us see and nurture the good that is our true nature.
Christie’s job did not get any easier – her boss was still difficult – but Christie had changed. A more compassionate view of herself, coupled with discovering some beautiful qualities she had, enabled her to feel stronger and less intimidated. Gradually, she realized this view had value. She could see that it was possible to find another job. She did, and landed in a far better situation. And her health improved – along with sleeping better, the depression left and the headaches with them.
But more importantly, Christie learned to silence the bully – the one within that kept her self-critical and helpless. That bully moved out!
Whatever your individual spiritual practice, rather than it just helping you to cope with bullying, it can be instrumental in discovering that inner strength and confidence that stops the bully permanently, both within and without.