But don't think that I was any better. Oh no. Prior to that we had had many fights as siblings and I can assure you that I had likely taken my fair share of below-the-belt potshots, of which no doubt my sisters surely remember one or two -- at least.
And even though I know that these horrendous words were not intentionally meant to hurt me, certainly not in the way that they did, but were a way to be mean, in the moment, in the stupid way that kids behave at times -- they left a mark that affected my tender young spirit. The result of which left a scar, an indelible imprint -- a distorted and false message about my worth as a human being.
Why am I bringing this up now, today, these many years later? Well, earlier this morning I was reminded about the ongoing and increasing problem of bullying, and how words can really hurt individuals -- I mean really hurt, in ways that those who have not encountered a bully may not understand.
I myself have had a few encounters with bullies over the course of my life, at different ages, and sadly, on one occasion, was a conscious perpetrator. It's true.
When I was about 10, for some reason, and I honestly can't recall the circumstances surrounding the incident, but I told my other playmates on the playground to not like this one, short haired little girl. To this day, I can still remember her face, vividly. And to this day, that I did that to another human soul, haunts me terribly. Every single time I think about it, I am deeply ashamed of myself, and my eyes well up with tears of sadness for the little girl that I bullied on the playground -- and for the scar that I surely must have left upon her tender young heart.
Oh that I could go back in time and tell her how very sorry I am for being such a beast of a child!
I don't think that I would have ever had the courage to share my own pathetic story, if not for Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his example of humility in sharing the following, touching account of how his own thoughtless actions may have affected someone else, causing him to feel the need to repent, too -- as related during a CES fireside, later reprinted in the April 1998 Ensign titled: Come Unto Me
In 1979 we held in St. George, Utah, our 20-year class reunion for Dixie High School. We had great high school years filled with state football and basketball championships and a host of other “hometown, USA” memories. An effort was made to find current addresses for the entire class and get everyone to the reunion.
In the midst of all that fun, I remember the terribly painful letter written by one very bright—but, in her childhood, somewhat less popular—young woman who wrote something like this:
“Congratulations to all of us for having survived long enough to have a 20-year class reunion. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. But don’t reserve a place for me. I have, in fact, spent most of those 20 years trying to forget the painful moments of our school days together. Now that I am nearly over those feelings of loneliness and shattered self-esteem, I cannot bring myself to see all of the class and run the risk of remembering all of that again. Have a good time and forgive me. It is my problem, not yours. Maybe I can come at the 30-year mark.”
Which, I am very happy to report, she did. But she was terribly wrong about one thing—it was our problem, and we knew it.
I have wept for her—my friend—and other friends like her in my youth for whom I and a lot of others obviously were not masters of “the healer’s art”. We simply were not the Savior’s agents or disciples that he intends people to be. I cannot help but wonder what I might have done to watch out a little more for the ones not included, to make sure the gesture of a friendly word or a listening ear or a little low-cost casual talk and shared time might have reached far enough to include those hanging on the outer edge of the social circle, and in some cases barely hanging on at all.
Now granted, I was only 10 at the time, and he a high school student, with likely little involvement among those whom the letter was directed. However, it's important to note that both of us were within the age range that most often is found the highest incidents of bullying, still today. And because bullying in the past was considered a mere playground hazard, many parents have a tendency to not take too seriously when their child is either accused of being a bully, or hear a report that they are being bullied -- a potentially grave mistake, according to recent reports.
What exactly constitutes bullying? According to the Center for Disease and Prevention:
"Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker or who they think is weaker. Sometimes it involves direct attacks such as hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting. Sometimes it is indirect, such as spreading rumors or trying to make others reject someone.
Often people dismiss bullying among kids as a normal part of growing up. But bullying is harmful. It can lead children and teenagers to feel tense and afraid. It may lead them to avoid school. In severe cases, teens who are bullied may feel they need to take drastic measures or react violently. Others even consider suicide. For some, the effects of bullying last a lifetime."
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development gives this definition:
"Bullying is being aggressive to another person in a physical, verbal, or relational manner. Cyberbullying (or “electronic aggression”) is bullying that is done electronically, including through the Internet, e-mail, or mobile devices, among others."
So today as I was reminded of the worth of every soul, as a literal child of God, my heart was drawn to my baptismal covenant and a deep sense of gratitude for an understanding of my responsibility and promise to strive to develop the Christlike quality of charity. When I think back to that little girl of only 10, who could have momentarily been so thoughtless to have not realized how hurtful my actions were, to now feeling such pain for those actions, I am so very thankful for that incremental growth that has come line upon line as I've come unto to Christ and felt my need for the Atonement.
As parents, grandparents and teachers, this is the opportunity that we have with our children and students: to teach, nurture and guide them in recognizing those around us who may seem different, left out, and who the world cast off as dross. These are the many found by the wayside, hurting, lonely, often in need of a friend, and as we have learned, some perhaps at risk of suicide. As we encourage our children to try putting themselves in the place of those who others might feel comfortable treating less than, we teach them to become like the Savior -- thus they are developing charity; the pure love of Christ.
I'd like to share with you a video-poem by popular poet, Shane Koyczan, titled "To This Day". I think you'll be moved by this current art form and the way in which Shane has been able to take his own experience with being bullied and personalize it to so many who have also been affected, and empower them in the healing process. It's a powerful piece and ongoing project.
They Were Wrong!
Awareness of social issues is a good thing when we remember, and have faith, that the answers are always found in applying the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How have you helped your children understand the problem of bullying and identifying when they are being bullied or being a bully? Have you found positive ways to help them develop charity as you've discussed bullying in your family?
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Photo Credit: Chesi - Fotos CC