Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blogspiration 20: When Words Redefine You

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA& Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author's choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.

I should start by apologizing for the extra long post this week.  That's what happens when you feel super inspired to write something.  Some topics simply need to be addressed.

When I saw the video below earlier this week, I immediately knew what the subject of my Blogspiration had to be. There was no question in my mind that I needed to address this issue using my own unique perspective.  However, I also recommend you read this blog post Ron Kemp wrote about why he thinks the bullying issue is persisting the way it is.  I think he makes some good points that are worth our consideration.

I admire Jennifer Livingston (the news anchor from the video) for her eloquence and professionalism in addressing this issue.  I must say that the email this man sent to her was more politely worded than most personal insults I've seen.  Some have defended the email for that reason, saying that it was a piece of constructive criticism that addresses a serious problem in this nation: obesity. And yes, I won't lie.  Health issues like obesity are an issue, and we need to educate ourselves on how to be healthy.  But being healthy isn't all about what size jeans we wear.  In writing this email, the man also failed to realize that health isn't only about how well your body functions.  Mental health is just as important to who we are and how we live our lives.  When people erode our self-confidence, that has a huge impact on our overall well-being.  We shouldn't let ourselves be defined by bullies, but judgment can come from all directions, and it can be difficult to fend off all the verbal assaults.  Remember, bullying is also a problem in this country, just as much as health issues are.  So many young people take their lives because they see no way out.  In sending his email, this man might have actually felt he was doing a public service, but even if he did, he ran afoul of another issue in the process.

October is national anti-bullying month.  Bullying is a huge problem in this country.  There's one thing I've noticed too.  People don't always grow out of it. In the midst of an impending presidential election, I see people on both sides railing on each other, slinging every hurtful name they can think of.  Political disagreement seems to be a good enough reason to tear your fellow man apart. It's like all these so-called adults are on the playground again, screaming because they want everything to be their way.  And the issue of bullying has come up numerous times in this political climate, with some arguing it's a huge problem, and others insisting that it's no big deal.  

I know the old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  I think a lot of people believe that only physical violence causes scars, but nothing can be further from the truth.  That's why this video meant so much to me.  This woman handled the situation beautifully, and in so doing, she proved to me that she is indeed a great role model for young viewers.  So many people don't address the people around them with a fraction of the poise and confidence that she does.  Why shouldn't such an intelligent woman be considered a good role model?

This next video shows Meghan Tonjes, another young woman who responds to being called fat.  I admire her spunk.  Her speech quite direct and to the point. The language isn't as clean since this is an internet video and not taken from a news broadcast, but I think it's worth a watch.  My favorite line from this video has to be this: "Why does it hurt you if I don't hate myself?"  Thank you, Meghan, for your words.

These responses from two proud and beautiful women are the way we should all respond to those who would try to tear us down.  Unfortunately, that isn't always the case.  Personal circumstances vary, and we don't honestly know how long is took them to get to a place in their lives where they can feel so confident in themselves.

Background Image courtesy of luigi diamanti

It's true that the words of bullies can only redefine you if you let them, but I think too many people use this as an excuse to say hurtful things about whomever they want.  It's a way of dodging personal responsibility.  The truth of the matter is that words have tremendous power, especially when one's own sense of self has been systematically eroded.

A lot of the talk around bullying as of late has come down to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  People say that they don't want those all important rights to be stifled.  Yes, these are important rights to that should be protected, but how do you balance those rights with the rights of the bullied?  I'll offer my take on this.  Whether you agree or disagree with what I have to say, this is an important conversation to have.

There are plenty of popular reasons to gate people these days.  When people take issue with the Muslim kid in class for his beliefs, it bothers me, though I won't try to say those people should not be allowed to speak at all about their feelings.  When I hear politicians say that kids should have a right to tell the gay kid in class that they are living a sinful life, I can both agree and disagree. Personally, I don't agree that being gay is sinful, but I know plenty of people genuinely do.  I respect your right to have an opinion and your right to voice it. Unfortunately, most of the taunts I've heard in my life have nothing to do with such sincerely held religious beliefs.  That tends to be the excuse people fall back on to justify behavior that is anything but holy.  Sending threatening messages on Facebook, and getting your group of friends together to shout slurs at someone, is not an exercise of religious freedom.  It's being a jerk.  Much like calling someone fat isn't typically an attempt to motivate them.  Let's be honest. People typically say it to be mean.

Using what I've learned over the years, I think I can answer Meghan's question: "Why does it hurt you if I don't hate myself?"  The answer isn't even all that complicated, though it's a question that all would-be bullies should ask themselves before they make the choice to demean others. In my experience, bullying stems mostly from personal insecurity.  By targeting others and making them feel small, they mask their own feelings of self-doubt.  And the effect is even stronger when the bully can recruit others to join in.  The bullied person is isolated from the rest, and the bully gains a sense of belonging.

Freedom of speech is so important, as I've said many times, but mutual respect is also crucial.  If we have the freedom to speak, we also have a corresponding responsibility for the words we put out there.  This does not mean we sacrifice our opinions.  It means that we look not just at our own interests, but the interests of others as well.  Everyone deserves to have a chance at living a happy life, regardless of how that life may differ from your own.

Just because you have the right to say something, that doesn't make it right for you to say it.

Now, none of us can avoid every little offense our words may trigger, nor should we.  It's impossible and exhausting.  We should simply remember how much it can hurt to be targeted in an aggressive way.  There are ways to express our feelings in a civilized and respectful way.  Having the freedom to speak doesn't mean we need to club the people we don't like over the head with our words.

Now, here's where I get real about myself.  I have a confession to make.  We all have those things that we bottle up inside, and if we're not careful, they can eat away at us.  It's safe to say that I was bullied as a child.  Much as I've tried to deny it, the emotional scars are still there.  I often find myself questioning whether I'm good enough.  I think I got involved in the Blogspiration meme just as much for self-inspiration as anyone else's.  Since I was little, there were always people telling me that I'm not good enough.

Growing up in a small town, there was no way to escape the reputation.  I hate to admit this, but as much as I loved my mother, and still do even though she's gone now, she had her problems.  Everyone I went to school with knew she was an alcoholic.  In fact, from elementary school all the way through high school, people made it a point to remind me of that fact.  As if I could have forgotten. Things got so bad for me that I felt like I had nowhere to go.  My mom's drinking greeted me at night when I came home from school, and the school day left me to dodge verbal assault after verbal assault.  I even got physically assaulted a couple of times.  That's why I kept my writing notebook with me everywhere I went.  It was my portable fantasy world. Whenever I needed a place to escape, all I had to do was open that notebook and create that new world.  The bullying helped shape who I am in positive ways. Yet, the demons that erode my self-confidence held on for the ride.  Even now, I find myself struggling with them.

Now, I can forgive my mom for her mistakes, because I know that she meant well.  Though she wasn't perfect, she gave me a lot of good things, like my sense of humor.  I choose to honor the good above the bad, because that's what makes me stronger.

I can even forgive my bullies, because I understand how easy it was for them to fall into that trap.  I even lashed out at people in a similar way, because I didn't want to be alone anymore.  So, I acknowledge the ways the bullying shaped me, and I want to toss out the bad effects that came from that too.  The problem is, it's easier said than done.

In writing this blog entry, I am attempting to make that choice now.  The doubts pull on me, threatening to hold me back from my dreams.  I am declaring here that I don't want to let them.  In sharing this, I want to tell those demons that they don't have any power over me.  I also want to share this with anyone who has been or is being bullied.  I know it hurts, and it can be devastating to you.

Bullying can even destroy your whole life if you hang on to it.  Even years after the bullies have disappeared from your life, the words remain.  Just remember, horrible as those words are, the power is ultimately in your hands.  No matter how hard it may be, you need to make the choice.  You can either let the words continue to define you, or you can take ownership over your life.  Let me stress this.  It's YOUR life, and you are worth the effort to live it well.

Background Image courtesy of


  1. Kids who have never outgrown the playground - now that is the perfect way to describe it.

  2. I think it takes courage to write this kind of post, exposing your heart. You have my utmost respect.

  3. L.G.... wow.

    I can't even begin to describe... just, THANK YOU. This post is so so SO inspiring, in so many ways, and that first video was POWERFUL... that by itself would have been amazing, but you didn't leave it there, and your story. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. Bullying comes in all shapes and sizes (just like people) and it's a nasty, pernicious, insidious crime, because it keeps hurting, it keeps injuring years, and even lifetimes afterwards.

    Thank you so much for talking about it. YOU are inspiring ♥

  4. This was an awesome kind of post- excellent blogspiration! It's always moving to see people standing up to bullying and having peole beside them; those two videos were inspirational.

  5. Very much agreed and very well said. Your mom was a wonderful lady and I really miss her. As for politicians, absolutely right. It's actually a huge reason why I can't stand politics at all. Mudslinging and bullying others to join their never made sense to me.

    You are ABSOLUTELY good enough and it's wonderful to see you pursuing your dreams.