“Hey Mom? You know my friend Nicole? She’s been awful lately, I mean she’s really ragging on Aja about her weight. It’s getting really bad, I mean Aja’s been crying to me a lot about it. But when we’re all together and Nicole drags her, we all laugh, even Aja. Nicole says, ‘oh I’m just kidding you know we love you.” But today Aja found pictures of dead cows in her locker, and… I just don’t know what to do.”
A) “That’s awful! This is the same girl who was messing with you constantly about your boyfriend and all? Well, you can talk to her and tell to knock off the shit with Aja, and see if she backs off. Or.. maybe you just need to find another friend?”
B) “Well, Aja is overweight. Have you ever asked her how come she eats so much? Or hinted that maybe you and her could exercise together, and she’d feel and look so much better once she loses the weight?”
“I don’t want to go to school because all they ever do is call me a pussy and shove me!! I hate it!! I didn’t do anything, I never did anything, they post notes on my Facebook that I should kill myself already, the world doesn’t need pussies, and… maybe I do want to die.”
A) “Ohhh.. Oh no. Okay. I see how upset you are, and I know, this world is full of awful, hateful people. It’s just words, honey, and you’ll see, once you get out of school things will be so much better. People change. But for right now, stay off Facebook and I’ll have a talk with the principal about these bullies, okay? Okay.”
B) “I suppose they see something in you that makes them say that? Maybe they don’t like seeing it? It’s how people are, sometimes. So I’ll tell you what. Come on over here. I’m going to show you how to fight back, and the next time one of them says it, you have my permission to put this fist in their mouth. As for Facebook, just block the trolls and ignore the bullshit, kiddo. It’s just words.”
So. Do words matter? Does truth in all its shades matter? And is compromise still a thing? Is how we perceive words and truth the heart of the matter? Should we teach our children that words can’t really harm us, that our emotions mean little, to ignore them, because nobody can hurt us without our permission?* That truth really is arbitrary? That we all just need to toughen up our skins so we can go placidly amid all the noise and haste?** How long before teaching our kids how to stand up to bullies it turns into “Cash me outside, how bout dat*** (I’ll smash you before you can smash me!) Can we teach our children (and blooming adults) that refusing victimhood does not mean appeasing cruelty? That freedom of speech can walk hand in hand with decency and everyone’s differing values?
I like to think the world is more kind and polite when we’re not hiding behind poison pens, those rare times when we come out of our holes and meet face to face, but then I remember. The world is changing rapidly. We can weed out the “weak,” the dangerous “other” with more economy (and anonymity) than ever before. Maybe I do need some more sandpaper to toughen up this old soul so I can have confidence in my convictions, even in the face of a hurricane.
***Quoting troubled, viral teenager Danielle Bregoli