Sometimes I get all hung up here about the power of words, about how amazing and important words are. About how fragile people are and easily injured by harsh words.
The past few days have seen more and more mounting proof of this issue. All of the coverage over "bullying" and "teen homosexual suicides," though misses a critical point. Everything seems to be focused on making broad sweeping statements - Bullying is bad. Being gay is okay. And fine, I'm not arguing with that, but... But... Aren't we missing the bigger picture.
The bigger picture that words are important. This bullying, there's violence there too. It's not all words, but that's where it starts. That's where it always starts. Then the words grow to something bigger. And it's the words that do the most lasting damage.
Tell any kid that they are stupid. Tell them day after day and over and over again that they are stupid and they will believe that they are stupid. This is true whether you are calling them stupid, worthless, ugly, fat or bad. They will grow to hate themselves much, much more than their bullies ever did.
And yet. And yet, we teach kids that words don't matter. That sticks and stones will break our bones but words will never hurt us. That throwing words around is okay, expected even. Most of us will reprimand and punish our kids for hitting one another, but how often do we lay down the law about name calling, about hateful words, about cruel language.
A couple of weeks ago, I helped out with a group of church girls. Most of them were in elementary school and as they played and talked among themselves, I heard one of the girls call another girl "retarded." When I called her out and told her not to use that word, she said that no one had ever told her not to use that word. Later, when my own daughter called someone stupid and I pulled her aside for a conversation, she said, "I don't really think she's stupid, I'm just mad."
It made me think about how I act. Not to her or her sister, because I would never, ever talk to them like that. But to other drivers on the road. To their father. To people I'm losing my temper with. I will never teach her that words are important, that words can hurt and sometimes kill, if I don't model that behavior.
I have beautiful children, smart children, talented children. And I see so much potential in them, but the thing that I most want them to develop and nurture is compassion and kindness. I want my girls to grow up and have that uncanny ability to see the world through the eyes of others. To strive to help and never to hurt.
In this moment, there is not much I can do to stop bullying or to comfort someone who is being bullied. I just don't believe you can talk to someone about something like this that you don't know. If you do know someone, know that your words can matter. Words that comfort, words that teach, words that affirm. Words that say, "I love you." Over and over again until they are heard. And I encourage you to say those words.
What I can do is play my part in the next generation. There isn't very much time until Brynna is at the prime age when bullying starts. I don't want her to be bullied and I will teach her over and over again that it's okay to stand up for herself, that it's okay to talk about it. I will tell her I love her and that she is smart and beautiful. I can't picture my perfect angel ever being a bully. I can't picture her taking delight in someone else's pain, but I doubt that any mother can. So, I will also do my part to make sure she knows that words hurt.
It isn't much, but I hope that it makes a small difference.