I know there are so many facets to the bullying issue, but the one about words being weapons is really resonating with me today.
Just off the top of my head, the word geek when I was a kid, was a word with very distinctly negative connotations. Even though I was a really active kid, I was also a bookworm. I was called a geek by other kids quite a bit and I grew up thinking that it was really uncool to have my nose in a book when I was around other kids because it was such a “geeky” thing to do.
However, fast forward 10 years, when I was in university for the first time, and if someone said something along the lines of, “You’re such a geek!”, guaranteed it was directly related to the fact that someone was bloody brilliant and there was nothing negative about it.
Fast forward even farther, to present day, and I think of the word geek with fondness and a bit of whimsy. I used to be a geek and I enjoy being smart and I admire the shit out of my friends who are still geeking out-especially those who I did my Chemistry degree with-and making a difference in the world in their chosen fields (chemistry, genetics, biology, engineering or whatever else). Being a geek, in my mind, is pretty fucking cool! Geeks are the ones who make the biggest differences in technology, medicine, innovation, etc. These days, I still think of myself as a kind of geek now and then and it makes me smile!
Is there a point to all this? Of course.
Wednesday is the day we will be encouraging kids everywhere to wear pink and raise awareness for bullying. And, as an aside, Greg had the TV on tonight while I was reading a book, and there were four anti-bullying ads on in less than 30 minutes while he watched. One of them sent the message that “words hurt” and to stop being part of spreading the pain.
And, honestly, my first thought when I watched the commercial was that words are just words and they only become hurtful when someone teaches us that they are supposed to be hurtful. Words can be ridiculously powerful, but only when we choose to interpret them as powerful. Our reaction to them is what makes them influential. I know, I’m 38 years old and I have had many, many years to understand this simple and powerful concept, but kids are insatiable sponges who absorb everything that we teach them. If we are going to spend a ton of time teaching them to be kind to each other, it makes sense to also teach them that words only have power if we give them power.
Because, lets face it, for every couple of kids who are going to really get the anti-bullying message, there are just as many who are going to be perfecting their bullying skills. It sucks, but it is reality. And, because, as a kid, I was both bully and bullied (most kids are easily capable of playing both sides of the coin when placed in different situations), I know that kids are capable of many things that their parents don’t give them credit for.
My mom was an amazing lady and she taught me to love myself for who I am and what I am and to not waste my energy on anyone who didn’t like me for me. That’s a pretty kick ass lesson to teach a kid, but there is one thing that she never taught me. The easy lesson that words are just words. I had to figure that one out on my own, but now that I have, I realize that it would have been the easiest thing in the world to teach me from the very beginning. I didn’t have to put stock in the nasty shit that other kids said to me about my skin disease or my poor wardrobe or having my nose in books all the time or my giant lips or whatever else they teased me about.
Had our daughter lived, I would have done my best to teach her that she should be kind to others, but also that there are some nasty people out there in the world who enjoy hurting others with their words and actions and she has all the power to control her own reaction to every situation.
And, just to be clear here, I think bullying is pretty shitty (especially the physical side of it that can and has lead to injuries and deaths), but I think if we teach our kids that words hurt, it only perpetuates the problem by making them believe it. Why not teach them that they have all the power to let words hurt or just see words as words? I think the really important part about the anti-bullying message is that we teach kids that they get to make their own choices and they get to choose what becomes powerful in their lives and what doesn’t.