A while back, our little family took a trip to a resort in the Dominican Republic (read post). There was some beach time, a few cocktails, tons of wet poopy diapers, and a splash of food poisoning and vomiting. But there was also a kids water park! In fact, it was right outside our suite so that every time we headed to our room, Sevan would flail and screech, if we denied him the water.
Anyway, our boy is generally a friendly lad, blowing kisses and waving to strangers and loved ones alike. Sevan is particularly fond of older kids and tries to befriend every four to eight year old in sight. Most are pretty friendly, while some are indifferent to the little man’s overt friendliness. However, during one visit to the water park, a few older kids actually went out of their way to mock his baby babble and even purposely splashed him. It was painful to watch his innocence being berated. That look of incomprehension on his face actually tied my guts in knots. I wanted to step in, you know, do a little verbal throttling — but I stopped myself. Life is a far more poignant teacher than any lecture I could give him. At some point it’ll become clear to Sevan that not everyone has good intentions at heart.
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but since becoming a parent, I think about my own childhood a lot more. From the stories my parents recount, I think I was something of an innocent lamb – I liked holding hands with old folks; I loved animals; and once while petting a goat, it tried to pull my pants down (yes, that really happened). Growing up I had no shortage of friends, but I also got bullied by a few kids, particularly in grade 5, when this older chump constantly threatened me. It was pretty traumatic and talking to my parents didn’t really help, because I was the one who had to deal with this punk-ass on the way home from school every day. But that was a long long time ago, and I’m way over it…
Fast forward 34 years.
A few weeks back, I was out for a three hour run, and, as usual, I greeted people as I passed. Out of hundreds of joggers, maybe half a dozen acknowledged my existence. I felt this creeping pang of rejection, this feeling of saying, “Well, f-k you, too.” That inner voice was telling me, “Don’t bother being friendly. You’ll just get rejected.” But turning inward is what kills civility — not acknowledging others for fear they won’t acknowledge us. This little bout of rejection helped me put some stuff into focus.
We are social creatures at our core and feeling we belong is an essential aspect of that need. You reject someone enough times and permanent scars form.
Cyber-bulling is part of the same continuum, where people think being cruel is funny or clever. Just read any comments section online and you’ll see how some people relish being wicked. Worse yet, it’s sometimes celebrated. It’s brutish like the ancient Roman theatres of carnage – dismemberment as entertainment. The 21st century, with all of its technological advances, has created an environment of emotional removal – where drones can drop bombs on faceless villagers far far away or the bully can post a humiliating tirade from the safety of his/her phone.
Meanness is toxic. It even poisons those engaging in it. But, let’s face it, being cruel is easy. We can shoot arrows, our fragile egos safely hidden behind the walls we’ve built. Being compassionate, on the other hand, forces our walls down, potentially exposing us to bullies and cynics.
If this is the culture Sevan is growing up in, I’ll do my best to prepare him for the “real” world — but also try to dissuade him from entering the vacuous theatre of meanness. It’s a dead end, and, ultimately, a soul killer.
One the best pieces of life advice I’ve ever received was not from some wise elder at an ashram but a 17 year old name Rachel back in high school. She told me, When in doubt, do the friendly thing. I’m going to pass that gem along to Sevan when he’s a little older. Hopefully, he’ll appreciate that words and deeds have the power to harm, as well as heal.