This morning an article came across my Facebook feed about an 11 year old boy who attempted suicide because he was bullied for liking My Little Pony. (I happen to like My Little Pony. FYI one of the writers for the Power Puff Girls is the producer…and I REALLY liked Power Puff Girls. But that’s beside the point. My prayers go out to the parents. BOTH my children enjoy MLP and if either of them were consistently bullied because of it, I’d come out of my skin to defend them.)
Yesterday, there was an older article being passed around by my FB friends of a loving father ranting against parental verbal abuse. (I agree with everything this father says, but also think this article is an indication of another issue that I’m not talking about in this article…stupid dead-beat parents who should be sterilized, and have their children taken away and given to a loving family. Was that too harsh?)
And these sorts of verbal abuse and bullying stories are becoming more and more common. It makes me absolutely angry. Not anger at the bullies or the parents accused of this abuse (though there IS plenty of anger for them as well), but anger at a society that is producing a bunch of victims who don’t know how to process these sorts of things in a healthy way.
Let me pause here and say that I know and recognize that bullying, verbal abuse, and mental abuse are serious things. I’m personally affected by this in that I am very close to people who grew up under verbal and mental abuse, and who have suffered beneath what I can only call criminal bullying. I’ve seen closer than I care to admit the life-long effects of sexual abuse. I love my children dearly and would never use words to bully them or tear them down. So know right now that I am not belittling the victims or trying to justify the attackers in any way.
Here’s an easy summary of the problem as I see it. When I was growing up, I was always told the mantra that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This taught me that I didn’t have to take careless bully-ish words seriously, that I could let it just roll off my back without it affecting my emotional state, and that the opinions of others could in no way impart a definition upon my life unless I allowed it. It made me mentally strong enough to endure the words and opinions of others without it breaking my spirit or defining me as a person. But more importantly it taught would-be bullies that words were not an effective weapon against me. And I grew up sharp-witted and clever, able to out-word the bullies into leaving me alone.
But we have two generations, from about 30 years old and down, that have been taught over and over again that the old mantra about words not hurting IS A LIE.
Okay, so yeah…words can hurt. I’m not saying they can’t. But when you teach children to expect words to hurt and you teach would-be bullies that words are an extremely effective weapon, you create a culture of people who are slaves to the opinions of others and who feel like they are entitled to have good words showered upon them. So when someone comes wielding words as a weapon, these children have no concept of how to deal with that. Or perhaps more accurately, they have been conditioned to be instant victims of words and to be ashamed of wielding words to defend themselves.
<analogy>When I was growing up, we all wore armor and carried our swords with us. We were taught the responsibility of using our swords properly and to never harm the innocent. And we were taught just how powerful and dangerous our swords were. But we were also taught that if some bully came along to attack us with their swords, then our armor was strong enough to withstand it, and we were skilled enough with our own swords to defend ourselves.
Today, children are not given armor or swords. They’re taught that swords are bad, and that everyone should wave flowers at each other, brushing their bare skin in such a way as to make them feel loved and important. They don’t know how powerful and dangerous swords are. They don’t know how to use them properly and are not skilled enough to use a sword to defend themselves. Then along comes the bully with his SWORD, wielding it like a Neanderthal, having never been taught anything about its power and danger either, and drunk with the tantalizing sensation of having a weapon nobody else knows how to use…and the bullies chop the innocents to pieces as they cower in the grass, waving their flowers at the bully to go away.
And you know what I have to say about that? Stop whining that the bully found a sword…because bullies will ALWAYS BE CARRYING SWORDS…put on some armor, learn to wield your own sword, and stand up for yourself.</analogy>
People only have as much power over you as you allow. We need to stop allowing the words of other people to have power over us. We need to learn what it means to grow a thick skin again. We need to take our hearts off our sleeves and learn how to defend and protect our emotions. We need to realize that WE ALONE can define ourselves, and stop letting other people’s definitions of who we are affect our well-being. And whether it’s true or not, we need to teach our children that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” because at the very least it will help equip them to process harmful words in a way that doesn’t make them an instant victim. And if they aren’t an instant victim, the bully loses words as an effective weapon.
Bullying and verbal/mental abuse is a serious thing. But it need not paralyze our society.
One other article I would like to reference. In Auckland, New Zealand, a school has lifted many of the rules and restrictions for the children during recess. They are allowing them to fight back, take risks, and play games that most consider dangerous. The surprising result is this…when kids take risks and play dangerous games, they become more aware of the mortality of those dangers…resulting in LESS playground injuries. And when kids are allowed to stand up and fight back against bullies, suddenly there is LESS bullying.
If we want to stop the epidemic of bullying and verbal abuse that seems to be paralyzing our society, then we need to begin teaching people how to wear armor again, how to wield swords again, and how to stand up for the right to retain the power to define oneself instead of cowering on the ground as some bully uses words to destroy us.
I for one grew up not being THAT victim. I will not be THAT victim in the future. And I plan to teach my children not to be THAT victim ever.