Thursday, January 12, 2012
Not to underestimate the value of a smile
One thing I don't care to discuss often is that I was a former victim of school bullies. My school career began in 1975 and finished in 1987 (not counting university) and I had a ghastly time just about all through it. Name-calling, infliction of physical pain and the sort of treatment which would now be branded sexual harassment was part of my everyday life. Even though we talk about the innocence of children, I knew a cruel and terrifying side to the way kids can treat their peers.
Here are a few things I can tell you from the perspective of a former bully victim, as we're not always understood.
1) You don't admit it because at some deep level, you believe it's all your fault. It seems like faultless logic. I reasoned that if there wasn't something intrinsically wrong with me, others wouldn't pick on me. In my experience, the bullying carried over from two Primary Schools into High School, making it even 'clearer' that it must be me. The word "geek" wasn't really known in the '80s and even "nerd" was uncommon. They used to call me a "square" along with other scathing names I won't mention.
Older members of my family often gave me pep talks on how I should behave to deter bullies. "Don't cringe... don't hang back on the outskirts of a group... go up boldly to a group and be friendly... look bullies in the eye and tell them where to go..." Although they were well-meaning, it made me feel even worse when trying to follow the instructions fell flat. Therefore, I never wanted to admit how badly I was being treated because then people would know what a sorry excuse of a human I was. If anybody reading this blog even now suffers at the hands of bullies, believe this. YOU DON'T DESERVE THE TREATMENT YOU'RE RECEIVING!
2) It takes many years to recover from. Some people think it's arguable that you ever recover completely.Well into my adult years and marriage I carried this with me. Once, I heard somebody at my husband's workplace mimic me behind my back. I had just enough time to get outside to a quiet place before crumpling. I was reduced to tears which I was anxious to hide. I couldn't believe that it took a split second of some idiot's brand of humour to rush me straight back to those terrible school days.
During those school years, whenever anybody spoke kindly to me, I couldn't believe it. It didn't take a huge gesture, either. A smile from an acquaintance was often enough to brighten my outlook. Whenever anybody pleasantly passed the time of day with me or asked my opinion about some issue, that would give my spirits a boost for a long time. I read something interesting about Charles M Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strips. He had a similar school experience to mine, professing to be surprised when anybody even bothered to say, "Hello." I love the way he was able to channel all that negatively into something fun and positive that brightened the days of many people worldwide, for he put his own self into the character of Charlie Brown. I hope to do something similar with my books, even though they won't ever reach as many people or become a household name as the Peanuts comic strips did.
So knowing the power of a simple kind gesture, that's what this post is all about. Sometimes I've heard people make the discouraged statement that they believe they can't do much to brighten the lives of others. They seem to think a quick smile or few words of greeting are worthless and quickly forgotten. That's why I ventured to admit all this, to say strongly that this is not the case at all. Some of the people I remember from my school days who made the most positive impact on me, are those who did nothing more than occasionally smile and engage me in a few moments of pleasantries. To me this was HUGE!
This is why I like to return the favour whenever I can, knowing that as we have no idea what any person is going through at any particular time, no kindness is ever wasted. Keep smiling. Keep initiating small-talk, however inane it seems. We might be God's messengers on a particular day which we feel is a write-off. We just don't know!