This week, I listened as some young teachers reflected on some of the names they’ve been called lately. Though their conversation was lighthearted, I know from experience that no matter how many times we shake the dust from our sandals and walk on, we still limp just a little from the words that have been hurled our way.
Instantly, I remembered the words a student wrote in his journal about me some 20 years earlier, when I was a 22-year-old high school teacher: “Mrs. Noble is a skinny, flat-chested b****…”
Though I didn’t share that specific memory in the staff lunchroom, I did say to my young counterparts: “Unfortunately, you will probably remember some of those comments 20 years from now. But try to forget what you can. The words don’t deserve to be remembered all those years later…”
I found myself repeating that sentiment two days later when a college-aged friend shared her story of being cyber-bullied in junior high. My response to her was a little more base: “Mean people suck and don't deserve the time and emotional energy we spend remembering them or their ugly words…”
And yet, I know from experience, forgetting is impossible. And I also know the truth of the words a pastor once told me: “Hurting people hurt people.”
There is nothing new under the sun. This is a timeless, universal truth.
Even so, we are left to deal with the residual effects of the actions of those “hurting people” (today popularly known as “bullies").
It seems there are no harsh words quite like the words of junior high. In my years of teaching and working with women of all ages, pre-teen through adult, it seems that every one of us has at least one “Life in the Middle” story to share (I call them "LITMIDS" — my own made up acronym!). “The middle” is middle school, but it’s also a time where we are searching to find ourselves and our place in life, a season that inevitably extends well beyond those years. So much of what we struggle with in life can be traced right back to middle school.
I endured a lot of teasing (in junior high and beyond) about my small breasts. It has turned out to be my greatest insecurity (its root being: Am I pretty enough? Am I good enough? Am I woman enough?). No matter how many times others have attempted to affirm me about my body, the pain persists.
That’s why my heart breaks when I hear young women’s stories of being made fun of for some aspect of their physical form. Really? Someone had to go there?
In these days of social media, though the teasing and bullying of mean people is the same as it’s always been, the venue lends itself to far more exposure and farther reaching consequences. What may have been (by comparison, almost benignly) scribbled on the bathroom stall before, is now atwitter for thousands to see (and retweet). Pictures — real or freakishly photoshopped — now can be posted for the public to gawk at, for all eternity.
How do today’s teens deal with the exponential nature of such slander or ongoing harassments?
In the next two weeks, we'll hear from teens who have been cyberbullied and are speaking out against it. Another teen will share her four-month journey of silence as the recipient of unwelcomed sext messages. Yet another finds her voice extending a word for parents: What we want you to know about Facebook.
Please tune in to these “Voices.” In the concluding weeks of our social media series, they speak of their own accord, yet they are the voice of many more; they tell their stories for the sake of those collective hearts crying out to be known, that they in turn might find their voices.