Pain does not discriminate because of age…

The world has changed, and while it’s easy to say, it’s just the fact that the media is running on warped speed, the truth is this is not the world I grew up in back in the 1970’s and 80’s and chances are it’s not the world you grew up in either. Sure, 24/7 news cycles spread information faster and further than journalists of yesterday could have ever dreamed so it does indeed feel like we are constantly being bombarded with bad news, news that previously was never heard about but on a very human level, the connections we used to have at the soul level are gone…long gone.

Bullying is nothing new, when two or more humans are gathered, human nature takes hold and well…some of us are not nice. In 2nd grade, I had Consuela the bully who took my lunch every day until my mother intervened. The Spousal Unit told me he was once shoved in a garbage can by a bully. Yet back in the old days of bullying, there were safe places, we could generally go home and get a reprieve from the bully. Nowadays though, thanks to technology, bullying too can be a 24/7 event…draining the souls of the bullied to the point, the only escape is ceasing to exist at all.

Yesterday there was a news report that a 7 year old boy in Detroit was found hanging in what police are calling a suicide and reports are mentioning that the boy may have been a victim of bullying. Reports states his parents had recently separated and that he was constantly teased at school. An online acquaintance asked how a child can be hopeless to the point of suicide by age 7. Prior to 2008, I would have asked that same question but in 4 years of working with low income youth & families, I have met many kids who are hopeless, kids whose lights are dim because already at a young age they realize the world is a harsh place. Kids who know that fairy tales aren’t real and that life can be oh so hard. When kids are exposed to harsh truths at a young age and then we add in bullying, the world becomes a place where only pain exists and the goal is to escape the pain. People by and large attempt and complete suicide because they are in pain and they want…no, need that pain to stop. Pain is not limited to adults.

This morning I read this piece in my local paper, and once again found myself thinking that adults need to step up to the plate. I think too many times bullying thrives because the older we get and further away from our own childhood, there is a tendency to almost romanticize childhood. We look back and brush aside the painful memories, instead thinking about how simple childhood seemed. Childhood in many cases has never been easy and it surely isn’t easy now. If it were easy, many of us wouldn’t need therapy as adults to undo the harm that was done on a soul level often by loving and clueless parents. Yet in a society that chooses not to hear children, children will makes their voices and pain known…I did it with drug experimentation in my teens.

A child taking their own life is a call to all of us to do better, not just for our own kids but for all kids. This means battling the powers that be that want to cut youth programming, this means making places for kids in our own world but most of all listening to children. Recognizing that they are fully formed and sentient beings that deserve nothing less than our best, until we start honoring kids in their own rights, I fear that youth taking their own lives will continue.


Bullying or Disagreement?

According to the Free Dictionary, the definition of bullying is to treat in an overbearing or aggressive manner or to force one’s way aggressively or by intimidation. Bullying has been around forever, seems wherever humans exist, tensions will always occur and yes even bullying. In recent years it seems bullying is getting the attention it deserves, the older I get it seems everyone has some story about a childhood bully. For me it was Consuela in the second grade who threatened to beat me up unless I gave her my lunch. As you can guess I didn’t eat lunch often in the second grade, that was until my mother found out. My Mom being ole skool told me I needed to stand up for myself or else…hey; it was like 1980 and parents were still rough around the edges. In the end, hunger won out and I stopped giving up my lunch and miraculously didn’t get beat up but I do remember that year crystal clear.
Sadly today’s bullying thanks to technology is no longer limited to a specific time and place. Back when I was in school, if a child was being bullied they could go home and escape, now bullies can use the interweb and cell phones as torture devices. I suspect this is why we are seeing so many kids taking their own lives as today’s bullies have the ability to truly make life hell for the victim.
Bullying is never acceptable; I think we can all agree on that. What I do want to discuss though are we as parents raising kids who are in fact not bullies but simply imitating what we do. In the past year both offline as well as online, I have noticed more and more people using language that they feel bullied. Yet when you get to the bottom of the situation, it’s less bullying and more a simple disagreement. In a world that puts a premium of being respectful and politically correct at all times, are we stifling any and all dissent and slapping the bullying label on it?
If someone is boisterous in expressing their views, are they being aggressive? It seems more and more we are living in a time when the desire to get along actually gets in the way of true dialogue. Instead if someone says something that hits us deeply rather than reflect and determine there is truth in their words we determine that person is attempting to bully us. Rather than to work towards a resolution which might involve getting raggedy.
A few days ago, my six year old came home from school upset because she had had a tiff with two of her friends. It was a misunderstanding between 6-7 year olds but for the girl child in that moment she felt the world had ended. That the two other girls would never speak to her again, for well over an hour the Spousal Unit and I discussed the matter with her. At one point my daughter asked my husband if he would apologize to the other girls…he said no and explained that if he did it, it would not be the same. In the end, the girl made up with her friends the next day and all was well. So well that one of the girls came to my girl’s winter concert this past weekend.
While I was glad she resolved the issue on her own, it did make me stop and think how a simple situation could turn wrong and be perceived as bullying. My daughter did a thoughtless thing as kids do and both her friends expressed they were mad at her, they were hurt. As a parent it would have been easy to say they had “ganged” up on her, yet I know the girls involved and I know my kid. In the end it was important to me that she learn how to navigate the uncomfortable moments and know that not everyone is going to be happy with you at every minute. Life is not like that.
Please understand I am not in any way minimizing bullying and it’s disastrous effects, they are very real but it’s also important that all of us be open to difference and sometimes different views and ways of being from ours. When we throw around terms like bullying, it can easily become watered down and that’s when real damage happens. Sometimes hearing uncomfortable words about ourselves is a call to go deeper not scream fire!

Words matter

I swear I did not want to write anymore posts associated in anyway with the online blitz No Wedding, No Womb. At this point it seems to me it was a good idea that went terribly wrong, make no mistake there is some work that needs to be done in the Black community, yet I am not sure an online campaign is the most effective way to affect the change that the organizers and many involved want.

However last night while relaxing with a glass of wine and chilling on Twitter, I ran across a blog post that was tweeted by the NWNW organizer and my blood pressure shot up. Frankly in the last two weeks since this campaign has started I have read many things that made me shake my head but as someone who goes online to relax, I have kept my thoughts to myself. This post was just over the top but it made me think about something few people ever truly want to talk about and that is that words matter. The words you choose to speak or write are powerful.

If there is any doubt to the power of words ask anyone who has suffered abuse, physical abuse is horrible yet in most cases the physical pain goes away. However to anyone who has ever been verbally abused, the words never quite go away, they live in continuous loop in the back of our minds coming out at low points to remind us that we aren’t shit, etc. It can take years to erase negative words that dehumanize us…I know because I have been there personally and I have seen it with the families and youth I work with. Tell someone they are a little shithead and watch how they grow. If there are no positive words going in, eventually that little shithead becomes a shithead.

I realize that many that read this blog are not Christian but as a Christian myself I have always been struck by the fact that even the bible addresses the power of our words. In the book of James Chapter 3 there are many verses that attest to the power of the tongue. Verse 6, and the tongue is a fire, a world of inequity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. Verses 8 and 9 read “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God”. This Chapter goes on talking about what the tongue can do. Yikes, the potential to do damage is great when we do not mind our words.

Which going back to this campaign to address the issue of out of wedlock births in the Black community, how is it effective if we use language that tears people down? Referring to children as bastards and illegitimate? Yes, once upon a time a few decades ago such language may have been the norm but it’s not anymore. Once upon a time it was kosher for white folks to call Black folks nigger but most white folks understand that in 2010 if you call a Black person a nigger it will be bad for your chances of long term survival. The only white folks that walk around calling Black folks niggers these days are ones that wish to dehumanize Black folks. Even those white folks don’t walk around yelling it in areas filled with Black folks because they understand it’s not socially acceptable. And in most cases they have a strong survival instinct to boot!

To help people we must understand where they are coming from, in my line of work I have seen what happens when well meaning ill informed folks pop into volunteer and it’s not pretty. To be frank it creates more drama than the so called help gives. That’s what I feel is going on when we have groups of Black women calling other Black women lower class and hoodrats. By the same token it’s no good when we start having to go below the belt and using words such as bitch, cunt, and sell-out and so on.

Language is often used to dehumanize people, I imagine that while my ancestors hundreds of years ago were dragged to this country in shackles and didn’t know what was being said about them, its safe to say they could figure out it was not good. I know many will discount what I just said after all that was so long ago, but I still believe there are pockets of the Black community still impacted by the scars from so long ago and yes language mattered then as it does now.

However the issue of language being used to dehumanize others goes far beyond Black women and our struggles. It seems that bullying of our youth is on the rise, when I was a kid you got bullied at school but at least you got to go home and catch a break. Now thanks to the advent of social media, kids can be tormenting at home as well as at school, at school a kid may be facing physical threats but when a kid is bullied in cyber space that kid is being abused with words. Carelessly tossed around words have created situations where we are seeing kids some not even in junior high school taking their own lives.

Words and the way we choose to use them hold power and if we use our words for the collective well being of all we have the ability to affect change on a grand scale yet when we use words for our own personal gain we do so on the backs and psyches of others. So as we start a new week, I challenge you to be mindful of the words you are using.