“Mom, they call me weird.”
I knew there was no way I’d get away parenting without having to deal with some name calling, teasing, bullying. And I guessed it would happen to my Squirrel, who has always marched to his own drummer. He’s someone we’ve had to defend against adults who thought it would be “helpful” to tell me how much he needs a haircut or should change his clothes. This always pissed me off because his appearance reflects his personality and telling me my son needs to cut his hair is like saying who he is just isn’t good enough for you. And while I may just gently tell you to mind your own business, in my head I’m telling you to fuck off. The fact that how he looks bothers you so much you think you need to tell me he needs to conform to your version of acceptable tells me more about you than him. So needless to say, I knew he’d be called names eventually.
How do I explain that weird is awesome? Inventions, art, music, science, books – all of those things come from people who think differently. If you act like and think like everyone else, you will do what everyone else does. And I have big plans for my kids. I need them to think about things differently so that they can change the world in ways no one else has before, because no one else has had those thoughts and ideas before. Weird makes change. Average does not.
But…that’s a pretty ten-thousand-foot concept. And when you are in second grade, you are thinking about what people are saying to you right now, not that being unique means you’ll invent the latest technology, solve world hunger, or write amazing music when you are older.
What is reassuring is that I’m not alone. Pink’s daughter is bullied for her looks. Her kickass mom made a speech to her at the VMAs, telling her she’s beautiful and amazing, no matter what other people say. If Pink is going through this, then I’m in good company. I don’t have an awards show to make a public declaration of affirmation so I’m going to have to go for frequency.
But frequency is just not enough.
What’s tricky is that as an adult, how many times have you talked about someone because they are different or “weird”? How many times have we spent time with someone only to turn around and gossip about their short comings to someone else? Can we get real? I’ll admit I’m guilty of this. I’m guessing you might be guilty of this too. What an ugly, shameful side of me. I want my kid treated with respect to be his own person and I am one of the people who judges others for being different. We share blogs and memes about how you should be unique and that one small act of kindness can change the world, and in the next moment, we are trolling someone’s Facebook page with our passive aggressive comments.
I have a friend and when she catches herself talking about other people, she stops herself and says, “That’s not fair. I’m just saying that to make myself feel better.” Oh my goodness, she is my hero. Because deep down, I’m saying things to make myself feel better about my own choices and when your choices are different than mine, I’m inclined to judge you because what if you are doing it better than I am? Time to cut you down! It’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s exactly what the kids on the playground are doing. And it’s time to stop.
If we model the kindness and love we want our kids to show to others, what would happen? Would they learn to treat others with respect, even when they are different from us? It’s so easy to tell our kids about bullying and how awful it is, but we forget that as adults we do it too. We say shitty things on people’s social media pages and behind their backs. We don’t count it as bullying because we are adults! Adults don’t do that. We only say what needs to be said. Plus we are old enough now to know that it shouldn’t hurt anymore.
Except that it does. Each week we witness a new horrific act of violence and hatred and we say, how could that happen? How could someone drive a car through a crowd of people? How could a madman gun down people at a concert? How could someone threaten to shoot up a school? This world needs more kindness. I don’t know what motivates these people. I’m guessing a lot of mental illness, which is a whole different blog. But I’m guessing a lot of hatred too. What if this person experienced just a little more grace and kindness instead of judgement and hate? What if there was one person who showed them a smile and did something helpful – would that be the tipping point to convince a madman that the world really wasn’t all that awful? Maybe that’s just way too simplistic. But what does it hurt to try? What if we could all be a little weird and embraced for our differences? Would that change our mental and emotional DNA?
The other day I passed a panhandler and handed him some dollars. Then I walked to my destination. And I realized that I did not look this man in the face when I handed him the money. I kept my eyes down, as though asking for help and giving help were shameful acts. What a bitch. I was fortunate to walk by him on my way back to my hotel. I looked him in the eyes, smiled and wished him a good evening. (Side note: This is ridiculous. As I type, I realize I am telling you a story about how I made the conscience effort to treat a man like a human, with dignity. That should not be newsworthy. However. We treat people who make us uncomfortable like they don’t deserve respect and kindness. But there’s more to the story.) He didn’t say anything back. So I walked on. Honestly, he didn’t owe me anything. I was the one who treated him like nothing in the first place. Humanity as an afterthought can often be too little too late. As I kept walking, I heard “Hey! You have a good night too!” He was talking to me. I’m not sure if he was just slower with his response or just surprised that someone talked to him. I can’t assume to know his life. But I do know that I caught myself withholding kindness and decency because someone lives a different story than I do. It’s time my life involves more kindness, even if it feels a little a little stilted, a little uncomfortable. I saw a side of me that I didn’t like and I can change that. I owe that to society. I owe that to my kids.
So yes, I’m still going to tell my Squirrel all the time that it’s okay to be weird and different. Weird and different are the definition of creative. And I’m going to remind my kids to be kind to others, to talk to the kid that has no friends, to smile at someone who has a blank expression. But I’m going to do it too. I’m going to recognize that sometimes my knee jerk reaction to others is because I’m trying to make myself feel better. We can feel good about ourselves without stepping on someone to bring us up. I’m going to remember that everyone is a person and should be treated with dignity. Is this going to be easy? Nope. Our culture is to climb on others to make ourselves higher. But nothing worth doing is easy. Will I see a change in the world? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? We don’t always have to witness the good to be a better person. I challenge you to join me. Let’s make the world a better place. Fly your freak flag and mind your words. As they say in “The Four Agreements” (great book), be impeccable with your word. Sometimes it’s all you have control over.