Unique social change campaigner speaks out about bullying


Published on stuff.co.nz on 16 May 2012

Pink Shirt Day

THINK PINK: Philip Patston wants people to not just stand up for those who are bullied but start asking questions about why it’s happening.

The colour pink is becoming a symbol of hope for thousands of Kiwis who are bullied. Reporter Hannah Spyksma met with change-maker Philip Patston to chat about the messages behind this Friday’s Pink Shirt Day.

Bullying is not just a kids’ issue – it’s rampant throughout our society, a leading Auckland social entrepreneur says.

“I think it’s an adult issue and we need to show leadership as adults about breaking down power dynamics and not just accusing kids,” Diversity Works Trust executive director Philip Patston says.

The Westmere resident has helped create the strategy behind this year’s Pink Shirt Day which asks Kiwis: “Where’s the power”?

He is joining hundreds of New Zealanders on Friday in a mark of solidarity against bullying by wearing a pink shirt.

Mr Patston says the Mental Health Foundation’s colourful campaign is a way to not only acknowledge those who are affected by destructive behaviour but to talk about what causes it.

Pink Shirt Day first started in Canada when a teenage boy was bullied for his choice of clothing.

His friends stood up for him by distributing pink shirts to all of their classmates the next day.

The campaign came to New Zealand in 2009 via Wellington organisation SS4Q and for the past three years has focused on homophobic bullying.

This year marks a broader focus for the event.

Mr Patston believes bullying is a symptom of power-driven relationships that exist within all areas of our communities.

It’s often used as a way to get promotions, status, and money.

He says people have a fear of not getting what they want and by engaging in destructive behaviour they deny others what they need.

“You only have to look at the way Parliament operates.

“People try and emulate that leadership thinking it’s a good way to run a business or a school but it’s not, it’s a lazy way to lead.”

Besides, babies are not born bullying each other instead children learn this behaviour, he says.

Mr Patston believes if people learn how to better manage relationship dynamics then situations that lead to bullying can be prevented.

It’s little things like walking away or not talking back that make a difference.

He also thinks a lot of bullying occurs when people focus on their differences.

That’s why his charity Diversityworks Trust uses creativity and diversity to drive positive social change.

“If you sit two people down and point out their similarities and differences then that’s a way to mend the relationships. Because what they’ve missed is their commonality,” he says.

Getting the anti-bullying message out is a personal crusade for the director who [used to] self-identify as being a gay-disabled-vegetarian-comedian.

“When you think about diversity and start being creative about it, that’s when social change starts to happen.”

He hopes conversations around power dynamics and bullying continue for longer than just Pink Shirt Day.

Visit pinkshirtday.org.nz for more information.

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