While dropping my five-year-old son Spencer off at pre-kindergarten the other day, I remarked to the teacher how difficult it was to find him a yellow shirt. It was yellow day, and he has no yellow in his wardrobe that I could find.
That's OK, the teacher responded. The other day students in the playground were talking about how they had to borrow T-shirts from their moms for pink day.
Ah, yes. Pink, anti-bullying day - where the solidarity of wearing a homogenous colour that in our society is usually associated with feminine is supposed to stop the most basic urges of animal life - the battle for supremacy.
Good luck with that.
I worry about my son. He's way, way behind in his speech development. That's why he's in pre-kindergarten in the first place, where he can get regular speech therapy. (It's something I had to take from Grades 5 to 9, before going to debate nationals). It seems like a quarter of his consonants don't want to come out, and he is very hard to understand, even for his parents at times. While his speech is starting to improve, it will surely make him a target on the school playground when he's a little older. I am all but certain he will have to endure some bullying, perhaps a lot.
I most certainly did. When my parents split and I moved to Yorkton just before the start of Grade 5, I would embark on four of the hardest years of my life. It didn't help that I was an uber-nerd.
"Mr. Goltz, the World Book Encyclopedia said ..." was something that actually came out of my mouth, in class, on a regular basis. I would say such things because as a bored farm kid, I had literally read about one-third of the whole World Book set by the time I was 10.
That, and wearing a white satin Hyas Figure Skating Club jacket when all the other kids had black Yorkton Minor Hockey jackets didn't help matters much, either.
While I had a few friends, there were many, many times when I sat alone at lunchtime. It got to the point where whenever I could, I would bike home a mile and a half for lunch just so I didn't have to endure that loneliness.
I didn't get beat up a lot. Actually, that rarely happened, especially after a life-altering incident in Grade 7. The biggest bully in the class was a guy named Norman. Since he had failed a grade, he was nearly a head taller than many of us.
Norman came after me in the hallway one day and punched me twice in the kidney. I spun around and hit him once in the eye with the most powerful right cross I could muster. The scrawny nerd laid out the bully. He couldn't see out of that eye for two weeks.
I have never struck another man in anger since that day, although I came close a few times.
It wouldn't have mattered how much pink was worn up to that point. Two boys were going to fight. Boys, and girls, fight. They always have, they always will.
I can't say I'm blameless. In Grade 11, a so-called "friend" of mine had humiliated me one too many times in front of a bunch of girls, so I picked him up and put him head first into a garbage can. I doubt it impressed the girls, but I established I wasn't going to be made a fool of without repercussions.
In pretty much every social structure, in every species that I am aware of, there is some sort of social order which establishes who is the dominant player. We all know wolves and lions have alpha males.
So do gorillas, and horses, and walruses. The list goes on and on. There's a similar process often for females. My grandmother used to tell me about the boss cow in the herd that all the rest would follow.
There is always a pecking order. The strong get their choice in mates, food, and the like. How do we, enlightened human beings in the 21st century, seem to feel we can now eliminate this most basic instinct?
Bullying is largely the establishment of that pecking order. Why does a bull moose grow horns? Surely it's not with which to play the fiddle. Wearing pink is not going to get him the cow moose, but fending off other challengers will.
It's not nice. It's not pretty. It's bloody hurtful on the receiving end. But it's reality.
We can talk ourselves to death about eliminating bullying, but it will never happen without the elimination of the human race. The best we can do is equip our children with the self-esteem to ride it out, take their lumps in some cases, and be prepared to stand up in others.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News, and Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association 2012 Columnist of the Year. He can be reached at brian.zinc...@sasktel.net