My family moved about 20 miles away from where I started life out when I was going into second grade. It didn’t seem like a big deal. I was still young enough that I wasn’t leaving friends behind. In fact, I had never gone to kindergarten and started first grade at the age of 5. I was so shy and nervous that I was afraid to ask to go to the bathroom which was about 6 feet in front of my desk. I then had to suffer the humiliation of having wet my pants and everyone knew it. I was teased, called names, and cried all of the way home on the bus because only one boy, who lived across the road from me, would let me sit with him. Not a great start for school. It was complicated by a girl named Sally who was a bully. I saw a new school as a new start. One I welcomed.
I did think it was a scary time going someplace unfamiliar, riding on a bus with different kids and driver, and not knowing anyone at all, but it was what I had to do and I was game. I didn’t realize I would become a target on the bus and not well accepted at school. It was about more than just being the new kid. My skin was a little dark because I tanned easily and well. A few older boys on the bus called me every derogatory name they could think of for Blacks and Italians and because I was a little rounded, they called me Pebbles, for the little girl on the Flintstones. In school, it wasn’t name calling, but no one wanted to play with me or sit with me at lunch. I was strange to them. They snickered at me and made fun of my clothes. I just wanted to go unnoticed; to blend in. I hoped everyday would be different. That wasn’t going to happen for a long time. I will be forever grateful to a boy named Barry who wanted to get to know me. He was kind and sweet. He made school bearable.
My mother’s answer to all of this was: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me. She had me repeat it and repeat it until I had it stuck in my head. I went back with confidence and conviction. It wasn’t long before I started faltering. It just hurt too much to be relentlessly called names and be teased. Then, I was told not to react. Letting them see how much it bothered me only gave them cause to continue. Ok, that made sense. I was willing to do anything to make it stop. I guess it did end up working, or else they decided to move on to their next target. Either way, it was a relief to have it end. Those were rough years for a little girl between the ages of 5 and 9.
All of this, and plenty more, is why I have such an aversion to name calling, labeling, and putting people in a box. Even generalizations hurt me to the core because it feels personal. I don’t think anyone deserves to be treated differently based on color, race, or creed. I know how it feels to some degree, just because I was a little different and new. Those words hurt me so much and stayed with me. So have all of the nasty or negative things ever said to me. I had a choice though. I could believe them. I could ignore them. I could become a bully myself. Or I could use them to understand what that must be like for others. I matured enough to start to use them for something good. Yet, nothing gets my back up faster than to be called or labeled anything I consider an insult.
Perhaps if we all had some sort of experience like that we wouldn’t be quite so quick to treat others that way. If we understood how words can hurt, would we be so quick to do the same to someone else? There isn’t anyone among us that knows a stranger well enough to call or label them anything. There aren’t even a lot of friends who know each other well enough to do that. Each of us walks around keeping things to ourselves that we never let others see or know. It’s our right to do that. If it means keeping some of our ugly thoughts a secret, all the better. Nobody needs that nastiness.
And that’s part of the problem with relationships today. So many think they should be able to say or do whatever they feel like. You are entitled to your own opinions. You aren’t entitled to just blurt them out without consequences. We need to think about how it sounds or feels to others. It’s sad that so many of us don’t care about that. It’s definitely not nice when the shoe is on the other foot and you are the target. You can’t act all hurt if someone does it to you and then turn around and do it to someone else.
I recently had a friend post something on Facebook that was upsetting to me. By reposting this commentary, he was basically saying he agreed with them. This writer was protesting being labeled based on others’ assumptions about a person’s beliefs and then at the end of this commentary, it gave a label to someone who would do that. I was like, what? After a tirade about being offended for being labeled and called names, the author turns around and calls everyone who didn’t think like him, a name? I asked my friend if he found that ironic. He didn’t. And therein lies the problem. It’s not ok with me. It obviously was to others.
Maybe we all need to remember that little child and those feelings. We need to put our brains into gear before our mouths. Figure out the reasons you feel compelled to do or say what you do. Does it come from a good place? Does it come from past experience? Is it really necessary? What are the consequences? Is it worth it? Can I do better? If we can run through those questions, and still feel the need to do it, then nothing will change your mind. I just hope you can be honest and mature enough to be truthful and thoughtful because words really can hurt. The kind of hurt that lasts a lifetime.