When in grade and high school, I earned “nicknames” from a certain few.
Twiggy, Jolly Green Giant, and variations of my last name. At the time, I was thin and tall for my age (5’9″ by 9th grade) and my last name was not a simple “Smith” that everyone knew. I also was picked on for wearing glasses and an overbite, neither of which helped with personal esteem or confidence in self.
I was never self-assured in school, never part of the cool kids, always feeling awkward and outside the circle. I had girlfriends, but they were either on the outside or in the colder climate of the inside. We were our own small clique of teenage girls who were too busy judging ourselves rather than judging the ones who called us names.
This is the effect that name-calling and degrading the value of others can have on youth and adults. It creates low self-esteem, self-criticism, negative mood, damaged well-being, and even violence in retribution. Name-calling is bullying and either way, the consequences of it can be devastating.
From a May, 2020, article at VeryWellFamily.com:
“…name-calling happens a lot. In fact, 75 percent of elementary school students say they are called names on a regular basis at school. They also consistently hear students call others ‘retard’ or ‘spaz’ and nearly 50 percent say they hear things like ‘you’re so gay’ or ‘that’s so gay.’ Meanwhile, it is just as bad at the middle school and high school level with nearly 65 percent of students indicating that name-calling is a serious issue at their school.”
I wonder how this issue came to be, from whom these children and teenagers learned the condescending and hurtful language? Does this come from the lips of other students? Teachers? Parents? Other adults in the community? Name-calling is not a gene activated by birth. It is a learned behavior. It is an “accepted” way to treat others when encircled with bigotry, fear of the unknown, jealousy, hate and nastiness of people who teach it. It is deemed okay when it’s needed to place people in a lower category, when adults don’t agree on politics, religion, sexuality, and a deep well of other issues. It’s okay for children and teenagers to follow along with the belief it makes them superior and cool.
My ex-husband was a huge name-caller and I attribute it to his own lack of self-esteem. He went through school with an overbite and a bad attitude that got him into schoolyard fights and visits to the principal. He portrayed himself as tough and confident, but I knew better. I learned much later he also had issues with dyslexia and I would guess that didn’t help matters for him. I understood what that did to him, but we ended up two very different people. While he never hesitated to call people he didn’t know “fat” or “stupid” or some other derogatory term, I cringed at his words and the very thought of that action. Not that I never saw someone behaving badly on TV and thought “how stupid,” but I could never call anyone a name, out loud, in anger or hate or because I thought it was okay. I had been there and it never felt good.
In today’s world, name-calling has been easy. Social media outlets allowed people to angrily lash out at others, especially with politics and religion as the topic of conversation. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms have recently been trying to crack down on the name-calling, among other things. It’s a welcomed change, albeit late in coming, but I still see those who would drag others through the verbal mud without hesitation. I recently snoozed a Facebook friend for 30 days after she called our current President a name that the former President gave him. I’m not standing for this anymore and if it continues, I may have to unfollow her for good. How will this country ever be united and the world a peaceful place unless we find a way to be civilized and kind as a human community?
For Christians, Jesus gave us direction in this area via Matthew 5:22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘you fool’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
In the days of Jesus, “you fool” was name-calling, but we seemed to have increased the severity of it over the last 2,000 years.
An article in the Huffington Post regarding Christianity and name-calling added this by its writer: “I’ve been thinking that 50 percent of the Christian message can be boiled down to two words: ‘Be kind.’ Jesus is reminding us to watch our tongues, to refrain from calling people names, to refrain from putting others down, to refrain from gossiping. To be charitable in our speech. Of course being Christian is a lot more than simply being kind; but without kindness we’re not Christian.”
One doesn’t have to be Christian to be kind and not give derogatory labels to others. It’s a matter of morality, of human decency. Being kind, without name-calling, evokes a message of acceptance, respect and a willingness to welcome differences in the human condition. In being kind, we remember none of us are perfect or wish to be the recipient of a horrible moniker. We are reminded of the old biblical saying of “treat others as you want to be treated.”
Parents, teach your children to be kind. Be kind to your children.
Children, don’t succumb to the peer pressure of name-calling.
Teenagers and young adults, it’s not cool.
Adults, set an example rather than being an example.
It’s up to us, individually and collectively, to stop the name-calling. It serves no purpose other than to make others feel bad and leave emotional scars that last a lifetime. Being called names in school has not completely left my emotional persona, although I have long since seen the positive aspects of being a tall Twiggy. At age 63, I still have occasional doubts about myself – how I look, my intellectual and physical abilities, and how I present to others. The feeling is not nearly as horrible as when I was in school or as a young adult, but that shit lingers forever and I suspect there are those who suffered a worse fate than I from their experiences.
If you find the opportunity, tell someone you know (or don’t know) how smart or gracious or handsome they are and let that become the ongoing standard of how people name-call, now and in future generations. The world’s population has to turn the tide toward what is good and kind, what comes out of our mouths or from our keyboards, before it gets worse and we are lost in a world of a bully’s accepted behavior.