Better Than That
When I was in eighth grade I was bullied by a mean girl. It wasn’t called bullying back then. She was just mean. Jealous and spiteful. I was the pretty one and she was the curvy one. And the boys liked her. More than they had a right to. We were in eighth grade, and she was a little wild. She could go out and stay out late. Her mother wasn’t strict like mine. I was the oldest of four and she was the middle of four.
When she talked about me behind my back my mother told me to smile and keep my head up high. “You’re better than that,” she’d say. I didn’t want to be special, or better than anyone else. I wanted to be popular and a little bit wild. After all, it was the beginning of the sixties, and I didn’t yet know we’d have The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Vietnam, Kent State, Woodstock, The Chicago 7 and of course, marijuana, speed and LSD.
All I wanted was a boyfriend and a body that had more curves. I wanted to be as fun as she was. At thirteen, I wanted to be older, curvier and prettier.
I was smart and had been gifted at birth with an internal sense of the truth of things. Some would call it intuition. I just knew I couldn’t trust that girl. I saw it somehow, could see through the façade. When I asked my mother what façade actually meant, she told me to go look it up in the dictionary.
My sometimes enemy, now called, “frenemy,” had an older sister who was sick, so she got all the attention. I didn’t know just how sick her sister was. No one did. And then she died. It was sad, and I felt sorry for the family.
But before her sister passed away, we were friends for a while. I would spend some afternoons at her house, and we’d walk to the center of our small town. One time I was walking with my head down, looking at the road ahead, and she told me not to do it anymore. She told me it looked like I didn’t have any confidence. It just didn’t look good, she’d said to me. I never forgot that bit of advice, and I never walked with my head down again. Yet, other times, when she had the chance, I was the subject of her whispered conversations to our other friends. Then the unthinkable happened. The boy she liked, liked me. So, she talked about me even more.
Said mean things about me that weren’t true.
Today, kids get picked on, threatened and bullied, beat up and sometimes even killed for not looking or acting the way they ‘should’ look. They’re called every sort of name imaginable. Awful things are posted online. Yet, according to some adults, those bullies are kids and don’t know any better. Some newly minted bullies will act with animosity, create chaos and choose sides. So they won’t be bullied, or appear weak. In turn they become bigger bullies than before.
No one wants to be on the losing side, so bullies try to stack the proverbial decks in their favor. It first begins with their feelings of insecurity, of not being good enough, unworthy. Maybe even shamed in some way.
Families whisper about each other, churches pay attention to the evil in the world and ask for money instead of showing their congregations how to be, ‘better than that.’
To make it even worse, the adults expect the kids to rise above such childish antics.
The kids being bullied are supposed to ignore the verbal and sometimes physical abuse and walk away…adopt a higher mindset than their adversary.
“Show them you’re better than that.”
Stay positive and above the pettiness.
Politicians will hide behind someone who has a larger list of followers, hoping the so-called magic falls in their space. Women and children are trampled on — figuratively and literally. But, ‘that’s the way life is,’ we’re told. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Above all, don’t make waves. Don’t take any side but the winning side. Even if you don’t agree. At least you’ll be safe. In their beliefs, in their numbers. Even if those same numbers are intentional fiction.
We hold each other and ourselves hostage for safety and security. We want things and don’t want to take a stand and declare what we’re made of.
Marketing expert Seth Godin said the other day in one of his daily emails, “The thing that gets us stuck isn’t us. It’s the script that we’ve decided is our only option.”
I would add that it’s the story we won’t let go of because either we grew up with it or it was just too comfortable, no matter how hurtful.
Truth was, I didn’t care what my frenemy’s script was. I only cared about mine. So, in order to feel better about myself and not let someone else’s issues get me down, I had to change my script and my thoughts once I went to high school. By then, my friendships had changed, and I wasn’t in the same crowd.
I didn’t want to be a whiner or a victim. I wanted to win at life and the best way was to take responsibility for my own actions. What I thought, did and reacted to had meaning for me. I didn’t have to think badly about myself for being lured into anyone’s web of deceit. I wanted friends I could trust.
My youthful frenemy had her own issues that I wasn’t party to. I intuitively knew that if she was talking about me, she was also talking about someone else. I couldn’t trust her when I was thirteen. Why would I trust her at seventeen?
I wasn’t anyone’s victim.
I was a perfectly normal girl who wanted to like and be liked by her classmates and peers.
And now I had to decide at what cost. I chose boundaries. I would do this, but not that. I wouldn’t allow someone to talk about anyone in my presence. It was hurtful to everyone. I wanted to feel good about myself and the only way I knew how was to be a better person. Trustworthy. Honest. Truthful in my actions. Authentic.
Just changing how I thought about myself and others changed my life.