Warning: Long post to follow.
I rarely write about serious things. I hardly ever post serious things on facebook. I’ve always been more comfortable keeping my online persona more frivolous, happy to be passionate about things like the Oxford comma. (don’t get me wrong; I still am passionate about the oxford comma, but that’s another story entirely.) So this is a departure of sorts, but I haven’t been able to get this out of my head for the last fifteen hours, so here goes.
Last night, I was taking Isaac for a walk in his stroller. At one point in our sojourn by the river, I saw we were coming upon a small group of young teenagers . . . they looked to be 14 or 15. Two boys, two girls. The girls looked like they were trying to hang back and have a private conversation while the boys went on ahead. I then noticed that the two girls were holding hands. So naturally I assumed they were an item.
That is all I assumed about them.
As I was passing, I heard one of the boys call back to them, seemingly in an effort to speed them up, “Come on, molesters! Come on, child rapists!”
What did they say???
I was absolutely appalled. I nearly turned around to ask those girls if these boys were their friends. Part of me still wishes I had. But I kept on walking, disgusted and disappointed by these boys who decided to use terrible words to refer to who I thought were their pals.
Now, part of me thinks that they only used such horrific terms because I was there, and they probably thought I was making assumptions and judgments about those girls simply because they were homosexual. I pretty much fit into the cookie-cutter shape of a Mormon woman (I was even wearing a BYU t-shirt at the time), so they probably were making some kind of commentary on whatever stereotype I was imposing on these two girls I was passing.
That is absolutely no excuse for calling them “rapist”.
Whatever my beliefs about homosexuality, I know that it does NOT equal “molester” or “child rapist”. Nothing of that kind had passed through my head. Unfortunately, there may be people who do think that, but I can guarantee I am not one of them. It is sad and unfair that there are people who think that, but it is also sad and unfair for these kids to think I'm one of those people merely because I am a mother walking her child and wearing a BYU t-shirt in Provo, Utah.
So yes, I was annoyed on my own behalf if that’s why they were using such language, but that wasn’t why I wanted to turn around and ask those girls if the boys were their friends. Because like I already stated, there is NO excuse for calling them those terms. None.
When did it become all right for us to insult and demean those people to whom we are closest? I include myself in this question, although I have never used such terrible words to describe ANY of my friends or family. Somehow, some time in the past, our culture flipped a switch and made it acceptable and normal to put down the people we like, while we remain polite and friendly to people we don’t actually know (or even like). It is usually in jest, and if the words seem innocuous enough, the recipient isn’t at all offended or hurt. I guess it’s supposed to speak on how close those two people are, that they are friendly enough that they can tease each other without feelings being hurt.
There may be something to that, but incidents like last night tell me that many people are taking it too far. That the coming generation has seen us behave this way and has decided to up the ante. Imagine a friend of yours has played a friendly prank on you, something harmless, but you feel a little foolish for being duped. It’s no longer enough to call them a “brat” or “punk” (again, seemingly harmless terms); they must be a “bitch” or a “rapist”.
Have these kids and the adults who have taught them forgotten what words mean? Did those boys last night somehow think that calling those girls “rapist” and “molester” was harmless? That they’re not talking about something that is actually horrific and terrible? Do they not know that to be a friend in this day and age, you actually have to have gumption to say something nice? It has become so easy for us to be sarcastic and insulting, all in the name of good fun and gentle teasing. Terms like the ones I heard last night and have heard in other places are NOT gentle. They connote something very serious and very harmful.
That’s why I wanted to turn around and ask the girls if these boys were their friends. And if they answered in the affirmative, I would have told them straight out that they were doing a lousy job of showing it. That’s why I still wish I had turned around, to let the girls know that they don’t have to put up with anybody calling them names, even and especially their friends. They should expect and even demand respect and kindness from their friends. So should we all.
The part of me that is all right with me continuing to walk away last night tells me that these teenage girls would either just have sworn at or ignored me. Who am I to butt in, right? But I should have been braver. Because teenage girls will put up with anything to keep the few friends they feel like they have. But keeping those kinds of friends only makes you feel lower. I would have told them that was something I wish I’d realized earlier as I put up with having less-than-stellar friends when I was beginning my teenage years. I got lucky by the time I was finishing middle school and starting high school, though. I ended up having awesome friends who were willing to build me up and be amazing to me. But I didn’t start out that way, and I was desperate to keep those few friends who would willingly eat lunch with me, even if they did constantly tease me and call me names, all in the name of good fun, acting like it really wasn’t a big deal the times I actually showed them I was hurt. “Oh, come on, we were just teasing. You don’t have to be so defensive.” Believe me, girls and boys, it’s all right to feel hurt when your apparent friends call you names. Because that’s how you find out who your friends are. Your friends are the ones who won’t hurt you.
I should have told them that, even if they wouldn’t have appreciated the stick-in-the-mud adult stopping and sticking her nose into their business. Because we all need to know that this deterioration of how we treat our closest friends and family is wrong. It’s an epidemic that desperately needs a cure. That cure is the bravery to be kind. It’s the creativity required to build someone up, rather than take the easy road and tear them down. That doesn’t mean we ignore the times that a friend really is being a jerk and needs to mend their ways. But when that’s the case, we don’t tease and call them names; we tell them there’s a problem in a sincere desire to help them be better people. Like we would hope they would do for us. Isn’t that what a friend is?
Some of you may think I’m taking this too seriously, and that’s all right. But if we keep pushing the line of what we call our friends or how we treat our family, how long (or short) will it be until we are conditioned to never say a kind word ever? So how does this stop?
I’m going to do what I can and simply start with me. I’m going to be better. I’m going to be kinder. I’m going to stop teasing my husband and stop being so sarcastic. I’m going to at least try to stop calling my son a “stinker” (even though, quite often, that’s what he literally is, being only four and a half months old and not potty-trained, after all). I’m going to be more positive. That’s really all I can do to change the world at this point. I can’t force others to be kind. But I can change myself. And I’m going to do it. So, if you see or hear me slip, let me know. I could always use an encouraging word from a friend.
Up next, my love letter to the semicolon. I'd rather get back to being passionate about punctuation.