We often hear quotes about watching our language, how we speak to others, and what we choose to put out into the universe. We are taught that if we do not have something nice to say, then we shouldn’t say anything at all. We are told to treat others how we would like to be treated. However, if we are taught the golden rule, why do we have a hard time following it? Think back to when you were a kid in school. There was always that one child you could pin-point as a bully, and you could identify the victims in their aftermath of brutal tongue lashings. Some kids would join in with the bully in teasing, some kids would laugh at what the bully had to say, and then some kids were left feeling terrible about themselves. Why is this vicious cycle never ended? Why do some of us bully, become their victims, and why do we not wisely use our words? Are we truly aware of the long-term effects of what our words do to others?
When I was about five or six years old, I loved to be in front of the camera. I liked to do plays; I loved to sing; I annoyed my siblings with the need to be the center of attention! I cared not for what others had to say but believed I held the ability to one day be something great. When I entered first grade, I was bullied, but regardless of the hurtful things being said, I still had a light of hope that I believe most children have that eventually may dim out because of life events and bullying. I recall that once I experienced a traumatic event, I was not ever quite the same. I lost my sparkle, my light, and I began to see how ugly the world indeed was.
Imagine a little girl waiting for her fifth-grade class to begin. She walked to school by herself and was lined up outside of the classroom, hoping she would discover a superpower of invisibility. Still, as other students begin to arrive, she finds herself surrounded by a circle of students taunting her, teasing her, and pushing her around. Have you ever felt alone in a room full of 30 or more people? I have, nearly every day of my school career. Do you ever remember the words people say to you clear as day? As if those words were spoken yesterday? I do. What do words do to a person? How does this take a toll on their lives and futures? Well, for me, I gave up the things I loved. I stopped doing school plays and singing; I became closed off, scared, insecure, and lacking self-confidence. You may be thinking that it is just school, kids will be kids, it’s not a big deal. My question to you, is when does it become a big deal? It should not take a person taking their life or attempting to take their life, harming others, or some other significant event to make you open your eyes and see that words, actions, and how we treat others most certainly affect the state of mind and well-being of our mental health.
You see, when you tease or bully someone for their looks, where they come from, their sexual identity, their interests, and just being themselves, it does leave a scar. In high school, I was pushed down the gym bleachers and sat on as if I didn’t exist. The person didn’t see me, and I was nothing at all. Everyone around them laughed, and I was left to pick myself up. I had trash thrown at me, rocks thrown at my head, and finally, someone who I thought was a friend told me to kill myself. I was told I was a waste of space, of air, and that I should have been aborted. I spent my time writing or reading alone at empty tables and was afraid to do the things I loved because someone told me that I was not worth anything. My self-esteem dropped so low that I began not to feel a thing. It is a lonely and sad place you can end up in when you are bullied. Sometimes, when we become numb, we get hurt far worse than we realize words can do alone.
I was sexually abused in a classroom. When do you get to the point where someone says that all you are suitable for is a “good lay,” when will we step up and say it is not acceptable? In my English class, senior year, silly me, I took an extra English class as an elective because I enjoyed it so much. My teacher had been out. It was my last period of the day, and we were assigned to watch a film and answer the questions on the paper. My assigned seat was in the back of the room by the door, and the boy who was sitting next to me scooted his chair over and touched me inappropriately and began commenting on my body. When I got agitated enough to be loud and get the attention of the substitute, I was yelled at for disrupting class. The boy next to me told me to meet him in the boy’s bathroom after class, and it was then that I realized nobody would come to my rescue or believe me. The questions that almost immediately follow any assault I’ve experienced is, “what did you do?” “What were you wearing?” and “Why would you put yourself in that situation?” Why do we look to pin fault on the victim of assault or bullying? Why do we not seek solutions, ask why this happened, and how can we begin to grasp the gravity of these situations?
My son was bullied, and the teachers said that he must have been at fault. Yet, my son, who is on the spectrum, was told to wait to get on his school bus to go home. He is a friendly child who just wanted someone to be his friend. So, he waited in line with other students for the bus. A bully then walks up to my son, knees him in the groin, and puts him in a headlock. Kids have told my son he is stupid, a loser, and nobody likes him. He was called a lot of horrible names, which I wish not to repeat. I had to remove him from school and teach him myself. The teachers said he must have egged it on. The child who bullied my son repeatedly was just “having a bad day.” When will the cycle end?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This saying we are told as children is entirely false. Words hurt; sometimes, they hurt so much that people wish not to live, sometimes they hurt themselves, and sometimes they hurt others. There is no reason to call anyone names, make fun of how they look, talk, where they come from, or how much money they don’t have. We are all human beings, regardless of sexuality, gender, skin tone, and anything else that makes us uniquely and beautifully different. Words can bring a person up, lift their spirits, make them smile, and give them a boost of confidence. Indeed, everyone can recall a nice comment or boost of confidence they received by someone’s kind words. In the same token, words can hurt, break, and even kill a person. How you speak to others, how you carry yourself, and what you teach your children is essential for the future of our world, our country, and our state of mind.
If bullying does not phase you, imagine your words in the workplace or with those you know. Have you ever stuck your foot in your mouth? Have you said something to offend another? Maybe you said something inappropriate? There is more to using your words than just bullying. Offenses and insensitivity appear around us daily, even in the content we consume on social media, films, and music. Sometimes we think these things are acceptable to say because we are desensitized to its harmful ways. We must remain aware and hold ourselves accountable for what comes out of our mouths and what we choose to put into the world. Remember, your job, friendships, and relationship may be at risk if you are not careful with how you speak. Use your words to build each other up, not tear each other down.