"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin
Saturday, October 18, 2014
I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to kill myself.
It wasn’t much of a concrete thought. I had no real plan to do myself in, no idea of the mechanism I might employ. I hadn’t weighed the repercussions of such an act, hadn’t considered what it might do to my parents and siblings. I simply wanted to cease to exist. If a sinkhole could have opened up and swallowed me on my way to the school bus stop, I’d have been grateful.
I was attending a new school in a new town, something that wasn’t all that unusual in my childhood. This time, though, a clique of girls had singled me out for unwanted, relentless attention. I’d refused to participate as they bullied another girl, so guess what? I was the new target.
Ignore them, my mother said.
Advice as practical as: Ignore that swarm of angry wasps around your head.
There was no ignoring these girls, no escaping them.
The school bus, cafeteria, gym locker room. Any place that lacked adequate adult supervision was their playground.
You’re fat, they told me.
Seriously? I was a human stick figure.
That didn’t make sense. Honors classes were my one respite from their company.
Well, there were those buck teeth…
Over time, their words and snickers and pranks wore me down. They wore me down until I was nauseous every school morning. Until I couldn’t sleep every school night. Until I began to believe their words, and I wished to disappear.
Recently, Canadian teen Caitlin Prater-Haacke was the victim of bullying. Someone broke into her locker and used her iPad to post messages to her Facebook page, saying she should kill herself.
Instead of taking the bully’s words to heart, Caitlin did the most amazing thing. She decided to respond to an act of cruelty with a tidal wave of kindness. Borrowing an idea she’d seen on Pinterest, she wrote positive and encouraging messages on 800 Post-It notes and stuck them on every single locker door in her high school.
School officials dropped the ball rather impressively in their initial response to Caitlin’s kindness campaign: they reprimanded her for littering. Ultimately, though, the school and community rallied around Caitlin, participating in a Positive Post-It Day that left everyone smiling.
I reached out to Caitlin because I was impressed that she, at age 16, knew something it took me much longer to realize. Bullying doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the target. It means there’s something wrong with the bully. And any time there’s something wrong, love is a far better fix than hate.
You may recall my earlier post about dealing with mean people, in which I shared some of the wisdom of Christine Carter, Ph.D, Happiness Expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (I still think she has the coolest job title ever). Dr. Carter explained that it helps to “see mean people for what they really are - wounded and tiny and probably threatened.” She advised to take care of your own pain first, because there’s a difference between being nice and being a doormat. Then, she said, “fight fire with water by sending loving thoughts to the people who hurt you.”
Caitlin understood that. She told me, “I decided to commit an act of kindness because so many kids do feel badly about themselves when they are bullied. They think they have done wrong, or that there is something wrong with them. This is not true, and I wanted everyone to know that someone believes they are beautiful, awesome, funny - and that they are not alone.”
(This is so much better than what I did when dealing with my bullies, which was to pray for either that sinkhole, or the sort of powers Stephen King’s Carrie possessed.)
Caitlin said the response to her Post-It campaign has left her, “overwhelmed, honored and proud.” Her message to anyone being bullied is this:
"You’re not alone, someone does care, and please come forward - and keep coming forward until something is done."
Sage advice. At 40 years old, with a lifetime of wonderful and amazing experiences under my belt and many more still ahead, I am damn glad my fifth-grade self didn’t do me in. Like Caitlin, I’ve got important stuff to do on this planet. Including spreading a little love, one positive Post-It and random act of kindness at a time.
If you are being bullied, pleasepleaseplease seek help, and don’t take “ignore it” for an answer. You’ve got important stuff to do on this planet, too. You can’t get it done if you’re worrying about bullies instead of enjoying the awesomeness that is you.