When I started thinking about this post and what I wanted to say, I started with teenagers. They seem so cruel. I thought I might tell about the boy in my high school whose primary hobby was making up rumors about me. I could tell you the nights I spent crying in my bed, writing suicidal poetry and squinting my eyes shut concentrating on the belief that it would be better when my world was not comprised of a large, low brick building where the ruling class wore football helmets or cheerleading skirts.
I thought about the way that kids hurt each other. Without really meaning to sometimes. Other times, on purpose, because they can. Because it seems fun. Or cool. Or something. I thought about how fragile kids that age are and how they say those cruel things, in part I think, to make themselves feel better.
Then I realized that it wasn't about "kids." It was about "people." I can't tell you how many times, as an adult, I've called someone I love a name, shouted obscenity at them or said some little jab designed to hurt them. Because they hurt me, mostly, but still. I realized how many times I have said something, meaning nothing really. Just filling the void. Trying to be funny. Trying to relate. That has caused someone pain.
I read a stirring edict from a mother of a developmentally challenged boy not so long ago about the use of the word "retarded" as a slang term for stupid or bad. She talked about how that hurt, not only the children dealing with delays, looking at that word on their medical forms, school forms and then hearing their peers shout it so mercilessly, but for the families as well. Trying to justify their love with the challenge. I told someone (who shall remain nameless) about it.
"Bull," he said. "That's just a bunch of politically correct crap. Someday, we won't be able to say anything."
I can understand this academically. I know how language works, how slang works. How words don't exist and then they do and they merge and change meanings and evolve. I love that. I love to study that and I find it utterly fascinating. On the other hand, though, I can't comprehend why people would choose to use words that hurt when they don't have to.
"Sticks and stones..." does anyone remember that? Well, throw it out. Don't teach your kids to say it and don't repeat it. Because words do hurt. They hurt, often worse than sticks and stones. They can kill. They kill those who can't deal with them and commit suicide to get away. They kill those who jump in their vehicles and drive too fast. They kill those who bury their pain in food, by either eating too much or too little.
No one is ever perfect, but, I think, we can all try a little harder. Try a little bit more to understand, to see the world from someone else's point of view, to accept that you can discuss, debate, talk, express yourself and your opinion without denigrating someone else.
This may sound a little saccarine. A little syrupy. A little made-for-TV. And I may seem a little idealistic. But I just can't help but seeing the world for the way it could be.