How Being Bullied Made Me a Better Person

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Being bullied changed who I am. Thankfully, for the better.

Here’s the common set-up: an awkward girl, socially weird, terrible at any sports, loved books, Greek mythology and video games, from a family that couldn’t afford the fanciest/newest things.

To the cool kids? My clothes were wrong. I had braces. Being bad at sports was worthy of ridicule. I loved all nerdy things freely.

I clearly remember coming home from Elementary one day in tears over the girls making fun of my sweater. The things they said were stupid, but kids can be some of the blatantly cruelest creatures. My Mom was the one who catapulted my mental shift, who gave me the right armour to combat the barrage of iron-tipped insults that’s changed my entire adult life.

I can’t remember the exact words, but the core  of it was this: remove the power their words had over me. Laugh when they laugh, ignore rather than seek revenge by trading mean words.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” -Romans 12:20

To my young brain, it sounded like it could work, but would be extremely difficult to put into practice. When you’re in the middle of getting bullied, usually the last thought is to laugh it off. Our culture says to get revenge, to have the better comeback, to bully back, and that’s when you’ll be victorious. But that’s not what Jesus says. It’s pretty opposite in fact:

“But I say to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” –Luke 6:27

It didn’t take long for a practice run to come my way. I deliberately wore that same sweater to school, knowing the girls were bound to say something about it. I walked in, the ringleader looked right at me, at my sweater, smiled a smile that said ‘thanks for the easy kill’ and unleashed her arrows.  After she was done, her followers waited for my face to crumple, for a shameful walk to my desk in silence. Instead, I remember laughing. I don’t know how laughter came so easily or so quickly in that first trial, and I can only think it was by the Holy Spirit’s help.

To the bullies, it was like they’d walked into a wall.

They didn’t know how to react. So they made confused faces then just…walked away from me. And I reveled in it. I probably had the biggest smile on my face at so cleanly escaping a bullying attack and feeling like, finally, I was the one who had the power.

So I did that again to the same group.

And again, again and again to the same people and to others.

And each time the bullies got the same result. I laughed. I shrugged at them with a ‘I don’t care’ expression.

It didn’t take very long to notice that the bullying slowed down to a trickle rather than a constant stream I had to struggle against.

I kept this up from Elementary to Junior High, and guess what? The bullies learned. I went through school with mostly the same peers, and they learned they couldn’t get a rise out of me, they couldn’t get me to cry, and in fact they were the ones who left feeling powerless. So, for the most part, they stopped. I’d still get a nasty comment or physically roughed once in a while, but never to the same degree. Some of the bullies even gave me grudging respect or simply stayed out of my way, a few even left off in the middle of bullying other kids when I started coming their way. I’d successfully learned how to cope with and defuse bullying attacks. That was huge.

On top of learning that, I gained another precious lesson, and I have bullying to thank for making me into a better person because of it.

Here’s the golden nugget: I stopped giving people so much power over how I feel about myself.

Someone spouted off something mean to me? Why should I care what a cruel person has to say about me? Why should I let that change my clothes, my interests, my self-worth? That isn’t a wise, kind person that deserves to be listened to–they’re undeserving. Why does their opinion of me matter? It doesn’t. In fact, it means so incredibly little, that those barbed arrows may as well be wet noodles. They’re still soggy and gross and leave a little bit of slime behind, but they’re not leaving scars.

This mental shift had rolling benefits into my teens and on. I never wanted to be in with the ‘in’ crowd. Why be friends with cruel people? It just didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense to me. I didn’t want to hang around with that. I never wanted to be popular with those types of girls/people; in fact, I didn’t even want to wear clothes or make up like them. I rarely had the compulsion to fit in, to blend, to change my opinion so I didn’t rock the boat, to be interested in the same things just because the other thing I liked wasn’t cool. I cringe every time I watch a movie or read a story where the main character is desperate to be in the group of ‘cool’ kids who are ruthlessly mean, self-centered bullies. Why? Just….why?

I wanted to be as separate from their behaviour as possible. I wanted to be the way I was because I wanted to. I love quirky, weird, awkward people. Normal is boring. 

This is the armour I carry with me every day. People’s opinions don’t have power over me or my choices. The only one who deserves that power is God. He’s the ultimate source of love, truth, and grace and the only one whose opinion I need to seek.

I can not over-emphasize how crazily freeing that is.  I’m still a very happy socially awkward nerd. I like anime, I don’t like high heels, I  don’t like bars, or drinking alcohol terribly much, I love video games, usually prefer reading and animal company to people company, and would unashamedly say all those things to a random stranger or the CEO of my company. Doesn’t matter who you are. And it feels wonderful.

Being bullied as a kid gave me the chance to change my response in meeting cruelty head-on, about embracing who I am rather than trying to alter myself to better fit in with society. Cruelty, whether coming from children or adults who never learned to be better, should not ever drive you to make different decisions about yourself. God made you the way you are on purpose. You belong. It’s them who need to take a serious look at how they’re living their life.

Matthew 5:43-48  You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

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Strong Female Characters: Please Stop

I plug my ears and say, “Stop. Please stop.”

Any time now they’re going to give up this phrase. Surely the next movie or book won’t be fixated on it. Surely the next Disney movie or YA book starring a young girl won’t be accompanied by ‘oh thank goodness for another strong female character. We need more of those.”

…please stop.

Here is why this phrase, this sentiment, drives me absolutely stark-raving, eye-rolling, bonkers. If by strong female character you mean the woman who can pick up a weapon in a firefight and be just as good as the next guy, if you mean the woman who doesn’t get teary-eyed and emotional, if you mean the woman who frequently shows up their male counterpart at whatever it is they’re doing to demonstrate they can do everything the guy can, then this phrase is deceivingly harmful and NEEDS TO STOP.

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Thank you, Kate Beaton, for your brilliance. (Check out Hark! A Vagrant.)

Here’s why this seemingly innocuous phrase is so darn harmful. ‘Strong female characters’ often does often not mean a female character taking a meaningful role in the plot, or a well-rounded, well-constructed, and well-written character–it means a character who embodies male aspects (just for clarity, I use the term ‘male’ aspects for the simplification of this subject matter). It means she can do it ‘just as well as the guys can,’ and those ‘male’ aspects is how she is defined as strong. The intent has become so skewed that we gobble up the heroine who destroys the crap out of the baddies and tear apart the damsel, the mother, the nurturer. The crier. They aren’t good enough role models for the budding girls of the world.

Let me, for a moment, ask you to shift your perspective.

A character should be able to embody feminine traits and masculine traits in whatever balance, and be judged for whether they are well-written and rounded characters. Not tossed aside as if a woman who isn’t strong at fighting or fixing stuff is a threat to women’s rights. Women are part of a brilliant spectrum of personalities, from the soft-hearted nurturers tending to the needs of others to the crusader fixing the wrong-doing in the world with a weapon in hand, and neither is wrong.

What makes them a true strong female character is if they’re flawed and chipped, riddled with anxiety, anger, selfishness, or fear, just like–go figure–real people. Here are a few examples.

Eowyn is fiercely independent and takes up physical arms for those she loves, against her uncle and brother’s wishes, refusing to be left behind with the women and children. A close Disney example to her could be Mulan. Leia is a take-charge general of galactic forces with a confidently brash attitude, and a wicked slug-strangling arm. (Might I also add, these are characters written from decades and more decades ago. It’s not like we’ve existed in a complete void of awesome female characters like some seem to think).

On the other end, you have Kayley (from Firefly), a wicked mechanic with a soft spot for frilly, adorable things. Or how about Nala from the Lion King? I loved her when I was a little kid cause she was sweet, but wicked tough, looking out for her family but not afraid to say it like it is.

All of these examples are of ‘strong’ women but in different ways or traits.

Now, a perfect example of a ‘strong female character’ in the worst way, who was nothing but a female plugged into the story so that the movie wouldn’t get yelled at for being sexist, is this:

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I can’t even remember her name, and I don’t care.

She was written terribly. Everything that happened around her was terrible. She was included only for the sake of having a lady in the movie who was good at fighting. And vague, terribly acted emotions so she could unnecessarily fall in love and then have her heart broken. No thanks. Not the idea, folks.

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Or Lara Croft. She’s pretty hardcore, right? Look, she has guns! That makes her strong and capable surely. Folks, she’s a  stereotyped man with breasts. Yes. When you strip it down, that’s what it comes to.

This is not a female empowerment rah rah rant thing. It’s deliberately thinking of what a ‘strong female character’ means. Or what a strong male character means. To wrap up, here’s a great bit from Jennifer Ellis about this very same topic:

“So go write good female characters, and badass female characters and young and old female characters, with cats, and babies, and bad habits, and passions, and hang ups and attitude, and whatever it takes to make them real, make them talk to each other about something other than men (the Bechdel test) and for God’s sake, give them something to do.”


 

‘Technology Ruined my Generation’ & Why it Never did

If you’re around my age, I’m sure you’ve heard this said about you, and if you’re older I’m guessing you may have said or thought this about someone younger: stop looking at your damn phone and have a real interaction with someone!

I hear an unending litany of how ‘this generation’ or ‘technology’ is robbing youth of the ability to have meaningful conversations with friends. Eyes are stuck behind screens rather than facing each other over a coffee or dinner. We text friends rather than call them. We sit on the LRT or doctor’s offices with our phone out to kill time.

And when I hear this, I feel a little chastised. It gets my hackles up. So I thought about why I reacted that way, and if it was just that I didn’t like being told my behaviour was inadequate or if it was because this didn’t sit right with me.

Then I saw this picture, and it really clicked:

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Well gosh golly, Ms. Molly. A bunch of people sitting in a confined space together with their noses buried in something rather than looking at each other? Why aren’t they talking with each other like civilized human beings?!

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because humans don’t enjoy making awkward eye contact and small talk with strangers. And MAYBE this idea of some object (from magazines, to newspapers, to cell phones) ruining our ability to be social or that we as a society are losing something inherent from the good ol’ days has existed for decades upon decades upon decades back, and the story has always been the same.

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Even if you scrolled through that really quickly, you get the point (the excerpt from 1907 is particularly grand). This validated my reaction that something wasn’t quite right by just blaming technology, and that shaming ‘this generation’ for using technology to communicate or kill time wasn’t right either.

This isn’t to say that scrolling through sites on your phone while your friend sites opposite you waiting to have a conversation is ok: that’s just rude behaviour. Rude is rude. But I challenge you to think: is it really about the phone/tablet/laptop etc., or is it the behaviour behind the device?

I text my friends rather than call because it allows them to answer when they have the time, not me demanding that time, if it’s not something important. When I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, I pull out my cell or my book because it’s insanely boring and helps me calm down rather than focus on my anxiety the whole time. When I’m talking with a friend, the tech goes away because that’s just rude otherwise, or I’ll set it on-hand to the side if I’m out and that’s the only way my husband can reach me.My cell phone isn’t inhibiting the ability for myself to have a meaningful conversation with my friend, and if it does, I’m the one choosing to behave that way. The picture below is the fear, and it can be a real and valid one if you let it:

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Nicole Wolf’s, a dear friend and wonderfully talented artist’s, take on Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want”

Technology has allowed us to extend our ability to be social across the city, across the country, across the world to family living in Nepal–and yes, sometimes simply across the house. It’s an incredible tool that can be used or abused like any other. The use of it and example of it needs to be taught and reinforced to kids like any other. Be the example you want to see.

I’ll admit, having a cell makes you accessible to everyone and everything has access to you, so you feel compelled to respond when that notification bings, but it’s just as easy to deliberately set it aside and make that time. No one needs to look or answer in the middle of  a conversation. Again–your choice of behaviour of how to respond.

The technology is a tool. Human behaviour has not changed. Our tools change and evolve.

So before you get the urge to say, ‘technology is ruining this generation!’ ask yourself, did letters? Did magazines? Did newspapers?

No?

And go forth into the world with a different perspective…

2 Reasons Why Wedding Culture is Destructive

This was vaguely me about two years ago while planning my wedding: “This is great and fun, and I love this guy, but I also want the perfect wedding for my big day.”

I researched everything. I Pinned everything. I gleaned snippets of other people’s weddings so that mine could be better.

Read that? Full stop.

When I thought it, my brain slammed into lock-down self-critique mode. I think about things a lot. I think about other people’s behaviour, I think about the underlying reasons for why they behave that way, I think about what I’m thinking about, and why I think about it so that I can understand others and myself better. And there were two things going on:

  1. Why did having a perfect wedding day matter so much to me?
  2. Why did my wedding suddenly become more important than any other giant momentous occasion in my life?

 

Let’s talk about number 1 first. This wasn’t so much a big red flag for me, but I felt it sneaking into my thoughts and hated it. So I very diligently tried to stamp it out like a warm snuggly fire that suddenly decided the wood it had wasn’t good enough any longer. I found myself ravenous for the perfect details to accent the aisle, the perfect arch to stand under while we said our vows, the perfect cupcakes to match our theme, and the hundred other details that no one remembers at weddings.

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How perfectly arranged for tens of thousands of dollars.

 

You know what was more important? Why me and my husband were there. It was about love. It was about us getting married. At the end of the day, that’s all that mattered. Steve and I repeated to ourselves, and our families, over and over again that it wasn’t about any of the stuff involved in putting together the day–it was about how much we loved each other, and wanting to show that by promising ourselves to each other. And it was a good lesson to learn early in the process because the week of the wedding was a bad bad week. I fell horribly ill and could barely get out of bed, my to-be husband injured his back to the point he couldn’t walk the day before, and one of his groomsmen suffered a great personal loss due to a tragic car accident. All in that one week. Boy was I humbled, and boy did we pray.

Why did my happiness about my ‘wedding day’ and our future marriage hinge on needing a nice enough table to sign our wedding license on or what the cupcakes looked like? It was silly. It was shallow. It was ruining the real and only reason for the day in the first place. It wasn’t a day bursting with perfection and STUFF that reeked of money to impress the guests, but it was one of the most specials days of my life with little details meaningful to us (incorporating books and nerdy touches anywhere we could).

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Piles and piles of free books from used bookstores, with sweet a few things on top.

 

Number 2–Why was this one day the focal point of my (or any woman’s) life? I feel like girls are prompted at an early age to yearn for this day like it will be the epitome of their existence and so deserves years and years of desperate planning before the event is even on the horizon, and crazy-making bridezilla-esque behaviour when it suddenly does arrive. This wasn’t the case in my up-bringing, but it’s practically oozing out of general culture.

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And that attitude is ok because….? No. There is no reason.

Your wedding happens on one day. That means one chance to have the perfect fairy tale wedding, captured in idyllic photos of gushing love, with the best food, drink, centerpieces, flowers, napkins, and chair covers you can buy. You better do an incredible job planning it, otherwise you are going to be disappointed for the rest. Of. Your. Life.

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Look how perfectly folded these ‘dove-grey’ napkins are! Surely you need napkins as perfect as these or the day is for nought.

Why? Whhyyyyy? What kind of disappointment and bitter rivalry and jealousy are we setting ourselves up for when we put that kind of ridiculous expectations on one day?

Truth time: the wedding itself doesn’t mean much. It’s just stuff. I’m going to say it again: it’s about love–not the feeling that flickers and fades–but the promise and choice you make to the other person that day. This is only one day out of decades with that person. And yes, it’s special and should be celebrated. But a healthy dose of perspective is needed. There are so many other things that happen in your life that deserve grand celebration too, beyond a wedding.

Maybe it’s education. You spent years of dedicated, hard work, toiling sweat and tears to finally earn a certificate or degree or whatever it is. Celebrate it! Plan a shin-dig, invite people, take the time to slow down and remind yourself how awesome you are to have spent all that time and work to earn that thing!

Did you help bring a tiny baby human being into the world? Celebrate it! That’s huge–you just created LIFE folks.

Did you accomplish a long-hoped-for life desire? Did you climb that trail? Paint that masterpiece? Move into a new house? Write that novel? CELEBRATE GOSH DARN IT.

‘Wedding culture’ becomes destructive if you let it. It’s overwhelming, it’s selfish, it’s twists nice people into rage/crying/insane people over small details, and it’s only one day and one event out of so many that should get similar attention. It is NOT the be-all and end-all event of your life. Have fun with it. Laugh when silly things happen. Make it your own. Enjoy it.

As I sat slumped in a chair at our wedding reception location watching my family decorate because I could barely stand, answering questions as they tried to decorate the way I’d wanted if I could have helped, saying goodbye to my fiance as a friend rushed him to an emergency chiropractic appointment to fix his back so he could stand at the wedding the next day, I smiled. I smiled because it was out of my control. But it was coming together. And even if it didn’t, so what? It was one day. And at the end of that day, I was going to be married to my best friend, whether he could stand or not.