The human brain, huh? It’s pretty amazing how it works sometimes. Sometimes, an idea gets stuck in our minds, and we don’t seem to be able to shake it off. We might not even notice it at first; it won’t even feel like it made it there, it just brushed our minds. However, it sticks. A few hours later, when we let our minds wander off, we find ourselves thinking back to that idea.
I read the news the other day and there was one article that caught my attention. A 14-year-old girl who took her own life due to being bullied online (yes, it’s going to be one of those lunchtime reads). My first thought was to wonder why on earth someone would take their own lives about something some random stranger might have said online. If you have read this blog for a while, then you might have caught on the fact that I cherish life. I can’t comprehend how someone can take that decision, no matter the situation. Well, I could maybe understand some specific situations, but that’s a story for a different post.
However, pretty soon I realised how rushed and judgmental my first thought had been, and took a deeper evaluation of why I had felt so quick to judge.
I was bullied at school. I changed schools when I was 8 or 9, I can’t remember and until I was 18 years old I suffered a constant harassment from not only classmates, but also kids from other classes on my same level. I’m not sure how this comes across, but it’s not a statement lightly made. I was bullied for about 8 years of my life. It’s fine, I’ve come to terms with it now and it doesn’t entirely affect me anymore.
During my school years, I used to get good grades; I was a shy girl, friendly and nice, a good person. I was polite and quiet in public, although outgoing with those who knew me. For some reason, I became a target so it was pretty much every day that I would be insulted, made fun of, or be the target of pranks. The other kids would make songs about me, and try to come up with names to call me. Some days it would affect me more than others. Some days I couldn’t stop crying and I didn’t want to go to school at all. I just wanted to hide in my bed and cry. However, no matter how devastated I would feel in any given day, it never even occurred to me to take my own life.
Back then in Spain, the whole “bully” awareness didn’t really exist. Kids were mean, but that was how kids were supposed to be. Even though my parents knew, and teachers knew, I think everyone was at a loss as to how to help me, and I imagine there were many other kids in my same situation.
I’ve had kids coming right to me, looking me in the eye and simply telling me “you do know you’re ugly, right?” I remember once when a kid ran up to me after a PE lesson, and pulled my tracksuit down while we were queuing to go back into the classroom (I also remember the PE teacher getting extremely annoyed, and grabbing the kid, getting him to the middle of the playground and pulling his trousers down… She became my hero that day, and unfortunately, I can’t remember what happened to her. Nowadays she would probably be fired and maybe even accused of child abuse or something; to me she was the best, especially since that kid never bothered me again).
Anyway, I don’t think the fact that I was bullied was the reason why that piece of news affected me. I think I was more affected by the question in my head: why I managed to get through it, while I was suffering on my skin, and this girl couldn’t manage online comments? I tried searching for the actual comments, to try to understand, but then decided it was just morbid, and that the comments didn’t really matter. What mattered was that someone had felt so bad with themselves, that the only escape they saw was to take their own life. It saddens me.
I’m a bit of a thinker, so that of course led to something else: the power we have over people.
No matter what we say, truth is we seek approval; we want to fit in, to be loved. Humans are an insecure species. From the moment we are born and we start learning how to walk or talk, or even just giggling, we seek to be loved by others. Children learn by reinforcement. When a baby starts saying “da-da-da” and a proud dad encourages him and smiles, and loves that baby, the baby soon learns that “da-da” means something that gets him affection and approval, so he repeats it endlessly even before he understands what it truly means.
The power we hold over others is immense. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker: with great power comes great responsibility; only most of the time we don’t even know how powerful we are (I know it’s from a comic, and it might seem superficial to to you that I quote this along this topic, but are those words not true regardless of where they come from?)
Simple comments made online made a girl take her life. I say simple, but I don’t mean it as such. I’m sure the comments were nasty; after all, people are cruel. When I say simple, I mean in the true sense of them being just comments, words, not even said out loud. The written word is powerful, in the sense that once it’s written it stays there forever, but how can a stranger affects us so much?
Whenever I get ready for work, I look at my outfit over and over again. I know people will judge me by the way I look and, since I don’t look like Megan Fox or Emma Stone even, I have to find other ways of feeling confident.
As a side note here, let me tell you that 8 years of daily bullying does something to your confidence levels. Many years after those events, I still shudder at the idea of judgement or rejection.
The way I choose to try to feel confident is by my style and my clothes. I am constantly judged, for example, because I don’t wear many skirts. I am judged because I don’t wear earrings either. You might think those are stupid claims, but many people have mentioned that to me, the fact that they don’t understand why I don’t wear skirts, or how comes I don’t wear earrings. Well, it’s just because I don’t feel 100% comfortable wearing any of those.
So… how does all the above relate to the topic at hand? Well, words hurt like hell. A simple word can change someone’s life completely. I’m going to go even further and say that a simple gesture can have the same effect. Overly dramatic?
Let’s look at an example.
I can think of a situation in where someone hasn’t been feeling that great with themselves lately. I imagine this person might have some issues, of whichever kind, maybe they feel they’re not worth it, maybe they’ve been abused, maybe they’re just depressed, I don’t know. You see this person on the street, and for some reason (maybe she or he is not that pretty?) before you realise, you made a disgusted gesture. That person might think “even this stranger is disgusted by me, where’s the point?” and who knows what they might suddenly decide to do.
I believe that a kind word, however, can also change someone’s life. Someone who has never felt love, who thinks they’re not worth it, receiving a kind word or gesture… Kindness can restore faith in humanity. I know, I know, I sound like a cult or something, but that’s not what I’m trying to do here.
I’m just trying to understand why we would choose to be so mean to someone else, to the point of making that person feel miserable. Why, as a society, we choose to cause pain to others?
Every time I read about kids being bullied, whenever I see people completely broken by intolerance and hate, it breaks my heart. I can’t help it.
I’m not a saint, of course, and my first impulse, as the human being I am, is a selfish one. I am judgmental and cruel too if I have to. However, because I know I am not a good person, I force myself to understand, to see the other’s point of view. If someone is rude to me, I want to be rude back. Self-defence, I guess. Many times, instead, I swallow and count to three (thousand, some other times) and try to think why that person is acting that way. Is it simply because they’re mean, or is there something else behind that behaviour? I have to admit that many times I simply don’t understand our nature and I can’t appreciate meanness just because.
We never know the battle the other person is fighting; we never know what has brought them to us. Some people might have had an easy journey, but others might have been fighting all the way to us. Everyone has their own stories, their own wounds, but how we deal with our scars is our choice and only ours.
I could now be a sour person, a wounded animal who cannot trust anymore. 8 years of constant brainwashing into thinking you’re not worth of your peers affection is quite a long time, it can break anyone. I could think that since I didn’t have it easy, I don’t have to make it easy for anyone else. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the Polish say. Not my problem whether you have troubles.
However, I know how difficult it is to need help and not being able to ask for it; or maybe having people willing to help but not knowing how to. I understand how difficult it is to decide to wake up just another day, and put on a smile and get on with your life. It will get better, they say around you. Fight back. Ignore them. You’re stronger than that. All nice words but at the end of the day, you still feel the pain inside you, and you feel alone.
We hold such a power over people. We can bring others down with our words, or we can lift others up with a gesture. Having a bad day, how many times someone has smiled at you, or maybe brought you a chocolate, and you have suddenly felt it was worth it. How many times have you struggled all day, only to have a person say something rude to you, and making it all worse. It’s not the last straw that broke the camel’s back really; just because one person made one last comment not does all the responsibility fall on them. We should all be held accountable for our words, not matter if we’re the first or the last straw, we all affect the weight on someone’s shoulders. You can choose to add up weight or take some weight off, that’s up to you, but don’t fool yourself thinking you had no part in the outcome.
I have the feeling I’m only touching on the surface, and it’s probably for the best. I am not an expert (only from personal experience, I guess) and I don’t have factual data to back my post today. I don’t think I could do the necessary research for this topic without bringing back too many memories. No, the true reason behind this post is to make you think. We act without thinking most of the time, but we need to be more aware of what we say and how we say it.
I could find a nice sentence to wrap up this long post, something to leave the topic lingering in your mind. You might not even give this matter another thought. However, maybe it will stick to the back of your mind, and the next time you have a harsh comment ready for someone, maybe you will think twice. I hope you do. I hope you don’t become part of the haystack.