What Lingers Forever

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.

25 responses to What Lingers Forever

  1. Dan Antion says:

    This is a very good message, Mary. “Avoid the peer pressure…” in middle school, that is nearly impossible for some. By 9th grade, I was 6’2″ and a whopping 125lbs. You can imagine the names. I couldn’t wait to get out of school.

    I can almost excuse kids at that age. They are mimicking others, or their parents. I can’t excuse or understand adults who persist in name-calling and using derogatory names as if they are acceptable. I especially can’t excuse or understand the behavior from people who claim to be Christians (or any religion). No one who looks up to God can justify that behavior.

    I hope you have a great week.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Adult name-callers are the worst, Dan, especially when it’s bigoted and hateful and for no good reason. I included the Christian element in this post because of what you said. I keep going back to the commandment of “love your neighbor” and how too many people of faith seem to forget the basic truth of this. There is no justification to do otherwise.

      I’m sorry you had a rough time in high school, but I know that hurt. I loved learning, but not feeling like I was a weirdo. At least now we have the life experience and the respect of family, friends, former co-workers and others that washes most of those bad words and feelings away.

      Have a wonderful Monday, Dan!

      • bikerchick57 says:

        It’s so bad when a President participates in this and makes it easy for his followers to do the same. Leaders aren’t supposed to do this, but yet they do, and then wonder why words turn into violence.

  2. quiall says:

    More than 50 years ago I was called bad names and I still hurt because of it. Those two words ‘Be Kind’ should be the mantra of every living being. If only…

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Yes, Pam. If only. What a marvelous world this could be if only some people understood that it’s far easier to be kind with words and actions than to do otherwise.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      There are too many stories, Judy. I hope for the generations to come that the name-calling will lessen in the midst of a kinder world.

  3. lois says:

    For me it was mostly at home. Amazing that low self-esteem stays with you forever. That little voice in the back of my head always said, “Nah, you’re not good enough.’ I could not wait to get out of high school, and then out of the house. Never looked back, never went back.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Lois, I’m sorry you had to go through that at home, the one place we’re all supposed to be nurtured. You did what you had to do, though, in order to move on and thrive.

  4. dweezer19 says:

    Some years ago I was given a book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a simple read, but its message changed my life forever. Name calling has been around for centuries and even in the Bible labels are used for designation, such as Sinners, Saviors, Prophets, Abominable. In Ruiz’s book, I believe under the agreement of Be Impeccable With Your Word, he writes that one should never assign an absolute descriptive name to another person, either favorable or detrimentally. If someone is being terribly mean or outrageous, rather than saying they are (insert expletives of your choice) your thought should be adjusted to ‘they are behaving like said expletive. When one assigns an absolute name to another, there leaves no room for change or improvement in our minds for that person. In other words, instead of saying, “He’s such a donkey’s ass.” saying, “He’s acting like such a donkey’s ass right now.” It leaves room for change, for a new way of viewing others and ourselves. We cannot do away with discernment or even judgment in and of itself.it is what we do with these things that should be scrutinized. The same holds true for complimentary names. Labeling others as ‘good’, ‘kind’, ‘patient’ and ‘generous’ often gets them judged at another time when they may not feel so kind or generous. They are unable to live up to their name and people judge them for that. This type of judgement is often harshest of all. Trust me, a person can go crazy trying to live up to the labels that have been put on them, first by parents, then teachers and friends. All because human history has deemed it necessary to aspire to being good and if we fail we are bad, when in fact each of us is both of those things. The Light and Dark make up our soul’s nature. I’m afraid it will take more than hand slapping from social media to reprogram human nature. It begins at home, from the moment of birth and with diligence to our children every step of the way. Most always bullying can be traced back to parental attitudes or influences from friends and let’s face it, we have a generation of children whose parents hardly notice them if they are contentedly playing on devices or out of sight. Parenting is not like owning a pet. It is hard work and to be a successful, effective parent, one must first put aside the notion of their children idolizing or always liking them. If at some point they say they hate you, you can be sure you just might be doing it right. 🙂

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Cheryl, thank you for your wonderful insight and for sharing important knowledge from Mr. Ruiz. He confirms something I’ve been trying to do and that is not label someone who rubs me the wrong way with a name but, rather, apply behavior. I didn’t think to do the same with someone I admire or love. Humans are not born with a good or bad gene, it is learned behavior from parents, friends and family. I remember thinking that my parents were too strict and had too many rules, but I understood at some point that it made me who I am. I feel that there has been less name-calling of late, but I know that not to be true. It’s still there, still pervasive, and I suppose we each have to do our part to stem its tide and to teach our children and others better in how to love.

      • dweezer19 says:

        Thank you for being such a conscientious human, Mary. We can unlearn anything if we understand the truth about it.

  5. Mary, congrats on being brave to share your experiences. It’s not easy to share your thoughts about the world today without being judged in some way or shunned because you wrote about something uncomfortable to others. As humans, we use words to describe people, places, and things. It’s what we do. We learn words and are supported to use them by those around us, either by birth or by choice, or by circumstances. Blaming others doesn’t make those lessons disappear. We can aim to be kind, that’s admirable. People of all faith or lack of faith can choose to be kind. The underlying essence of our society and the trajectory we’re headed on by us paying attention to the political divides and the words used by the people we voted in to represent us, who by the way are both guilty of name-calling in the highest degrees, isn’t going to get us to the kindness Jesus wanted us to portray. It even comes down to the symbols of the times, masks or no masks, vax or no vax, we’re set to divide against each other based upon our personal beliefs. Talk about low of lows. Can we rise above that and use empathy, compassion, and the willingness to listen to each other to come to a greater understanding of how we as Americans get past the name-calling? I pray for that every day.
    Hugs to you – your challenges in life have no doubt contributed to your strength!

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Shelley, thank you for your extremely thoughtful comments. Keep praying that as Americans and as humans, we can one day find a way to live with each other in our opinions and differences without using names to put others down. Would a world of peace and kindness be so bad if it means that we have to change not how we think, but how we respond and act toward one another?

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