The Power of Words.

My oldest son slumped into my car's passenger seat after school, pants covered with snow and sighed. "Mom," he said, "A kid said in class today, 'Everyone who thinks Teddy is a nerd raise their hand.'"  My heart broke a bit for him, but I was not prepared for his words to slap me back to 1980.

In an instant, I am sitting at my desk in Mrs. Curle's first grade classroom.  The late afternoon sun blazed through the south windows.  The room was quiet as we worked at our desks, the smell of ditto ink wafting off the paper.  I was overcome by a force that caused the words to hatch from deep inside me and I watched them leave my mouth like evil little raptors, their claws dripping with cruelty.  The quiet was shattered by my 6 year old voice saying "Who ever doesn't like Chandra raise their hand."

My recollection of what happened next has faded.   I don't remember if I was the only who raised their hand in the unwarranted poll and I was probably mildly scolded. Then life went on as it does. Chandra was a heavier girl in our class, quiet if I remember correctly and she moved after first grade.  Honestly, I am not even positive if her name was Chandra or Chanda or Shandra, because my Mother had this amazing ability to contort even the simplest name thus what is scrawled on the back of my class picture may or may not have been her name.

What I do know is this act of unadulterated cruelty has haunted me for 34 years.  Did my words affect her forever? Did she shake them off? Did she eat her way to 500 pounds? Did she take my words and succeed to spite me and anyone else who had ever teased her?  Did she become a recluse who lived with 12 cats?  Does she remember this instance after 34 years?  I wasn't a mean child and that is why this one moment is burned into my memory.  I had no reason to say such a cruel thing, other than I made the conscious decision to blurt out those words, on purpose. Every once in a while I pull out my photo album and look at the class picture and wonder where her life took her, and really wish I could say I was sorry.

My husband and I have talked about the rare acts of deliberate meanness that we performed in our youth which have haunted us.  We wonder when cruelty and meanness eventually became the norm?  Maybe we are weird ( I mean weirder than what we already accept we are) to both be continually bothered by actions of our youth.  I realize I sound like an old codger with this "Kids these days" mentality, but frankly I'm a bit shocked by how commonplace, easy and accepted, it is to be cruel.

One of my wonderful babysitters showed me a Twitter page the other day.  It was anonymous, obviously, because the cruelty posted on the page is not anything that someone would actually own.  The page is aimed at students of our local high school, and the unnecessary, false and malicious claims and statements made are easily tweeted because the poster is hidden behind a wall of anonymity. 

I was left with so many feelings after she showed this to me. I sat wondering how I'll survive the my children's teenage years trying to navigate them through the landmines of technology and social media with zero past experience to draw upon.  I didn't have a cell phone until I was 26.  I didn't text until I was about 30.  Let all that sink in next time you see a 10 year old Snapchatting while enjoying your Oreo Blizzard at Dairy Queen...  If you can relate to this, realize you also are a pioneer in parenting this generation of techy-social media kids, and personally I find this terrifying.

I was also just sad... Sad for the the targets of the posts, and more so for the poster.  What drove this person to feel the need to be just cruel for the sake of being cruel.  I think the tagline of the Twitter page was something about "Saying the stuff that just needs to be said."  Does it? Does it really need to be said? Is it constructive? Productive? Kind? Uplifting? I will be the first to admit I am all for honesty.  I am a self-described "Cold bucket of reality" friend, but it is done in person, and out of love.  I fully own the words I choose to say to my friends, and also my readers.  So the thought of spewing cruelty packaged as posts and tweets, blows my mind.  To lob hurtful statements out into the world, hidden behind a screen, for  just the sake of enjoying watching people react makes me shake my head.  One of the very best pieces of advice, a teacher gave me was "Never put into writing something you do not want someone to read."  I guess that advice became slightly irrelevant once one was able to hide behind a screen name. 

I'm left wondering where does that leave us? Me? Our kids?  In the end I can only go back to what I am in control of, and that is myself, and for a while more, my kids.  I guess I can only continue to stress and encourage the light, applaud the positive and love.  I can teach them that words will sometimes want to hatch inside them, but once they take flight, they are free.   They can not be reclaimed and once they have been released they are free to do whatever they will.  They will have to learn to choose what they release: pigeons or doves. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Diane