Sunday, March 24

Rainbow Hat: 0 Robin: 1

What I want to do is to hurl a similar set of expletives back at you.  What I want to do is to get on this blog and rant and rave, and rant and rave some more.  What I want to do is to put on my detective hat and find out who you are and throw eggs at your house and let the air out of your car tires and say terrible things (which are of course true) about you in ways that will be as public as possible and hopefully shaming, things that will ring true for your wife, or your family, or others who know you, as they have felt alone in dealing with you for all of these years, feeling like no one would believe them about your behavior.  What I want to do is intellectualize and moan about the death of civility.  What I want to do is scream.

But instead, I am crying. 

This week, I have been in more than my fair share of discussions, both online and in real life, about bullying, perhaps bolstered a bit by the recent studies that have been all over the media that affirm the long term effects of bullying in childhood.  Not that these results are surprising--any one of us could tell you that they're true--but it's good to be validated, I guess.

This week, I spoke with a guy who talked about how he was bullied in childhood, and he got over it, and in fact, it made him stronger.  He then proceeded to reveal his definition of bullying, which included having someone tell you that your clothes are ugly, or that you're stupid, or pretty much anything that could be categorized as "mean", leaving me to wonder if he had ever experienced bullying at all, or if he just felt free, as so many do these days, to use the term to cover anything that hurts someone's feelings, which is a huge load of crap and a massive disservice to those who are bullied.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for him that he "got over it" and that it "made him stronger".  I'm happy for him that he was somehow able to internalize his parents' assurances that the insults were about the person who threw them, and not about him.  How nice for him that he had a family that acted, in effect, as a buffer, rather than as a parallel wound.

This week, I made a decision.  I decided not to use that worn assurance anymore.  It's what my mother said to me, and as these things happen, it's what I say to my daughter.  "When your friend insults the way you dress, that's about her insecurity."  "When someone tells you you're always copying another friend, that it's her that has all the original ideas, that has nothing to do with you."  "When people say mean things, it reflects on them, not on you."  I've always thought, right up to this week, that these were pretty good things to say, ways to help a child navigate the world.   Now I think they're missing the point.

This week, I read and grieved and yelled and read some more about the Steubenville rape case.  And I thought about the victim, and how she is continuing to be viciously bullied.  And I thought about whether we would say such a thing to her.  "When those boys raped you and took photographs and everyone talked and laughed, that said something about all of them, not about you."  Nice try.  Well, OF COURSE it said something about them and not her.  Rape is a violent crime (which would make you wonder why it would receive a one year sentence, but that's another conversation) for which the perpetrator--usually male--bears responsibility.  But would we say such a thing?  I suspect not.  I hope not.  Because it doesn't help.  It's minimizing, and most importantly, it misses the point.  She has been violated.  She will have to live with this violation and trauma.  She continues to endure emotional torture.  Assurance that it's not about her doesn't make one bit of difference.  She was still the victim, and the pain is hers.  If we have any empathy at all, we want to support her and validate her in her pain, not try to help her to rationalize that it's their fault.  Yeah.  It's their fault.  Duh.  Can we move on to something that matters?

So why do we feel so free to use those phrases with our kids when they endure the daily torture of peers?  Because emotional and verbal violence doesn't count?  Because we still believe in that nonsense that starts "sticks and stones.."?  Because, well, some pain is legitimate and some pain is "oversensitivity"?  Who decides?  Because we don't want to nurture a culture of victimhood?  As if victimhood is more of a societal problem than victimization?

Last night, I made a stop at Trader Joe's.  I was tired.  My poor dog was in the car, as she had been for most of the day.  I pulled into the lot, littered with red plastic shopping carts (which people call "carriages" here, something I've never gotten used to), all of the carts thoughtfully (I presume) placed in such a way that did not effectively block parking spaces.  I got out of my car, took one of those carts that were strewn around the lot, went into the store, grabbed the few things I needed, went back out, and put my single grocery bag in the trunk.

Maybe it's cultural.  Maybe it's geographical.  Maybe it's generational.  Maybe it's laziness.  Maybe it's conforming to a cultural norm (like "driving with the flow of traffic", even if everyone is going 10 miles over the speed limit, something I'm sure none of us have ever done).  Sometimes (get ready to gasp) I leave my shopping cart in the parking lot.

Mostly, I return my cart, a task admittedly made easier by the invention of "cart returns" in parking lots, something that people a bit younger than me seem to think were always in existence.  Mostly, I return my cart because I have a daughter who feels very strongly about such things.  Yeah.  I want to be her when I grow up.  Mostly, I return my cart because it's the right thing to do.  Mostly, I return my cart because I've been known to be highly irritated by shopping carts that are left blocking parking spaces. But yeah, sometimes I don't return them.  No, I haven't done a sociological analysis of the factors involved.  And no, I have never--EVER--left a shopping cart in a place that would block a parking space (you know how they roll, so  you have to be careful).  It is only just now, however, that I have learned that this behavior is a violation akin to rape or murder.  Good to know.

Yeah.  Apparently (and here is something I never knew before), every individual who, at any time, has not returned a shopping cart to the grocery store--for any reason--is a heartless waste of life who deserves to be called names and filed in the drawer labeled "100 top reasons to hate people and wish them dead."   Yeah, no kidding.  People feel more strongly about this than I could ever have imagined.  Which I found out first hand in the parking lot of Trader Joe's last night.

Yes, your honor.  Yes, I plead guilty.  Yes, I was in the process of positioning the wheels of my shopping cart at the front edge of my parking space, in a way which I felt would be certain not to obstruct cars from parking in any of the adjacent spaces.  Yes, your honor, I understand that it was wrong.  Yes, your honor, I will return my carts from now on.  Yes, your honor.  I understand.

As I was doing this, a small blue car pulled into the parking space next to me (unobstructed by me or my cart).  It then continued into the space directly in front of that space, so that it would be parked facing outward.  Plenty of spaces at that time of night, apparently.

He got out of his car, looked at me.  White guy, tall, probably early 60's, gaunt, a little unshaven, rainbow striped knit hat (just for the irony, I suppose),  a bit of the People's Republic of Cambridge communal housing kind of look.  I smiled at him.  Because I do that.  And then it began.

"Put the f*#kin' cart back at the front of the store, you lazy b@#tch."

Pause.  I froze.

"How f#*@ing selfish can you be, blocking parking spaces!"

So here's where the long term effects of bullying come in.  I am like a deer in the headlights.  Inside my body, where you can't see, I shrink into the smallest possible person you can imagine.   I can't possibly think of a productive thing to say or do (see the first paragraph above for the list of the options that generally present themselves).  I often think of great things to say about 15 minutes after something like this, but never in the moment.  I have never been able to think of something to say in the moment.  Except this time.

I looked up at him.  I said: "There's a nicer way to say that." I think I raised my voice a bit, but I can't be sure, since I wasn't there at the time.

And then I went and returned the cart, despite the other two carts nearby in the parking lot.  I almost took those, too, because that's what it's like being me in such a situation..."Oh, I spilled a small bit of coffee?  Don't worry, I'll clean the whole floor!"  I heard him behind me.  Mostly, I heard that he took one of the carts from the parking lot, as I had about ten minutes prior, to use for his shopping.  "He could have just offered to take mine, I do that all the time when I see someone emptying their cart," I mumbled under my breath.  Mostly, I was thinking "When I get back to the store and return my cart, I'm going to have to turn around and he'll be right behind me heading into the store, and I'll have to look him in the face again."  Mostly, I was trying to figure out where I might have stashed my invisibility cloak, so that that last point would be moot.

I returned my cart.  I turned around to head back to my car.   There he was, right behind me.  I looked into his eyes, and I said (calmly this time, I'm sure of that)  "That was a good idea. And a good reminder.  There are just a lot of nicer ways that you could have said that to me."

He gave an odd tilt of his head that, on one hand, looked like "Well, I got you to do it, didn't I"....and on the other hand looked like he couldn't possibly think of something to say in response.  I'll take the second one.

When you behave in this way, you don't know who you're talking to.  You don't know that person's story.  You don't know that a few simple words, uttered in irritation on your part, might equal an hour of shaking and crying for someone else, even when they come up with the right thing to say.

You don't know anything about me.  And I don't know anything about you.  But I've got one up on you.  I know that it is possible to be kind to people I don't know anything about.

F@*^k the hour of crying and shaking.

Rainbow Hat: 0    Robin:  1

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