This is a photo of my daughter and Siete, her little horse, taken many years ago when we first moved here. She probably won’t be thrilled that I'm putting it on my blog. I love her expression -- it seem like the two of them are sharing a secret. My daughter had a creative writing assignment this week to describe an embarrassing moment in her life. While I wouldn’t dream of publicly humiliating her by revealing what she wrote, it did remind me that kids can be really mean. Especially girls. I’ll bet many of us have some of those real life nightmares in our past. I know I do.
I remember how I was mortified while I was riding the bus home from camp when I was that age. Some of my “best friends” pulled my underwear out of my duffle bag, and dangled the undies out the window as a bus of boy campers went by. Then, they threw my underwear all over the bus. I will never forget the betrayal and agony I felt crawling around on the sticky, garbage-strewn floor with my mom picking it up after all the other girls had driven off with their parents. My daughter’s assignment brought up all those long buried but painful emotions for me and caused me to once again wonder why we live in a society where bullying is so regularly the norm. How many times throughout history have kids been told to suck it up, get over it and don’t be a wimp?
What I have tried to teach my daughter is that the person who is hell-bent on making you miserable is likely in a lot of emotional pain. I know for a fact that the “best friend” who embarrassed my child was being tortured by her two older brothers on a daily basis. She needed a way to feel she was in control and inflicting pain on someone else whom she knew wouldn’t fight back was the fastest way to get it. “It’s not about you.” I’ve told my daughter countless times. A wise mentor of mine taught me the phrase, “Let it be hers (or his).” In other words, don’t take on anyone else’s issues of self-esteem when they try to dump on you.
My mother was a fighter, so out of a protective instinct that I inherited from my father, I usually attempt to find the diplomatic way out of a bad situation. I try to avoid confrontations. I’ve taught my child to stand up for herself better than I did. I made her understand that real friends don’t say or do things that are not kind and supportive of you and your efforts. As she has grown older, my daughter has also found her voice to speak up for other kids who are being bullied. Last year, she called out some boys on the bus on the way home, and recently, the kid she defended told her that those guys are afraid of her. She’s got some of her grandma’s spirit in her, no doubt.
Sadly, we live in a culture where meanness and bullying is often mistaken for power, hutzpah and a valued qualification to achieve success. There’s the boss who belittles employees or the teacher who intimidates students. There are the politicians who cruelly batter each other with accusations and insults. Social media is full of “flame-throwers”. It’s so commonplace that many of us just shrug it off as a normal part of growing up and going out into the world. My daughter tells me about students whose parents are never home or ignore them. The only way they get any attention is to get in trouble. Otherwise, they feel invisible.
The trend appears to be shifting with more frequent mention of kindness and appreciation. I passed a billboard the other day that said “Gratitude”. Still, I wonder how much of it is just lip service where people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk? What was the purpose of students writing about an embarrassing experience anyway? The assignment was handed in, but the teacher never discussed or analyzed it with any of the kids. If kindness matters, let’s live and breathe it every waking moment instead of just when it makes us look good or feel better.