“Wipe your face off the earth with acid, I’ll even pay for the acid.”
I heard it all the time: whether while walking down the hallways, or sitting inside class, skimming through a textbook, while eating a snack, or even while just sitting quietly while waiting for a ride to get back home. This is just the tip of the iceberg: the huge, glacial edifice of hostility and astute hatred ran far deeper, all through High School and College.
It didn’t matter what I did – or didn’t do – I was me, and that was immensely difficult for so many people around me to accept. I set out with my ambitions, I had my dreams. But to them, I was nothing more than a joke, a stimulus for cruel laughter and insults. To them, my ambition was not supposed to be anything besides trying to be invisible, if the earth below didn’t do me a favour by caving in and swallowing me whole.
Their logic is simple: “If you are radically different, I love you because you are radically different. But if you are ordinary, I hate you.”
It is easy to throw these adjectives. It is very easy to sit on that side and pass judgment. It is totally easy to say that someone is ugly, or that someone is a “retard”, or that someone is a loser. Very, very easy. It is very easy to string two harsh words together and stamp it on someone’s forehead, branding them forever.
But what is not easy, is being at the receiving end.
For the one that gets called these unsavoury things, the one that grows up trying to hide or trying to get lost in the crowd in the hallway of a High School or College, the one that tries to meld into the background so they look nothing more attractive than a wallflower, it is always an uphill climb. For years, they hear the same thing. And that is laid over them like dollops of thick cream, until it becomes one with their skin. When they want to try something they think they’re good at, the words they heard thrown against them will swill about in their heads. And so they’ll lie down until the feeling of wanting to give something a shot, goes away. Trusted friends will feel seem like mythical creatures, when people are nice it will feel like they are doing you a favour – or worse still, like they are being nice to get something out of you.
Bullying scars. And indefinitely. What gives anyone the right to brand another person? What gives one the authority to make another look small? Why, really? What lets one decide that the other is “not normal”? Wait – what is normal anyway? If they are the “norm”, I’m so glad to be the exception.
Words are destructive, so terribly destructive that they can leave you crushed under their power. We forget that words are not just a means of communication: but become a verbalization of our thoughts. We forget that words are not just callous utterances that one forgets like yesterday’s news, but are etched in the hearts and minds of the one hearing them. Words. See the power that the five letters have together? If you can’t say something nice, just don’t say anything. That doesn’t mean you should keep criticism or disappointment to yourself – speak it out – but don’t go out of your way to mess a person up.
I leave you with Lloyd Jones’ line from Mister Pip. “I am who I am, accept me as you find me.”, and this beautiful video of Shane Kozcyn’s speech at a TED talk. If this doesn’t make you think, you need help.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar