I do a lot of advocating on the bullying issue. As a survivor of both bullying and several bad suicidal attempts, I am well versed on the topic.
Lately we hear so much about teaching tolerance to our children. I hate that word tolerance. To me it implies that kids should just accept that someone is different. When in reality, we need to be teaching that we are all different and that no one person stands out. I spent most of my young childhood being “tolerated” by my mother. That was not a positive feeling at all. Why would we teach our children to just tolerate people? We should teach them to treat them as they would want to be treated. Old wise sayings aren’t still around because we like to say them, they have purpose.
In my teachings about bullying and sharing my experiences, I have come across so many parents that I know are trying to “teach” that good old tolerance to their children. “Now Johnny, make sure you are nice to all of the kids, even the one with the limp, the gay one, the one with the missing teeth, the short one…”, you get it. The statement to treat everyone nice even THAT kid just taught little Johnny that THAT kid is different, even if he didn’t even notice before. Our own ignorance and use of words and actions very easily plant the seeds of discrimination.
In my presentation I talk about adults and their love of making fun of people with websites such as “People of Wal-Mart”, “Redneck Repairs” and others. Understandably it is very easy to chuckle at some of the absurdities, but in reality the person being mocked is a person worthy of the same dignity and respect as anyone else. Our children learn this behavior by emulating ours. We all pass judgment. We are all human. However, how you act and what you say in light of the judgment your brain made is where our humanity does or doesn’t come into play. And all the time, our children are watching and learning.
During the holidays my fifteen year old daughter wanted to choose a gift tag off the “giving tree” at work. On the tags are the names and ages of the needy recipient and what they wish for. She grabbed one with great zeal, held it to her chest and said “mine!” with a great big smile. She then asked me to take her to the store. he needed to get a bracelet beading kit; for a nine year old boy. She was so enthused that she found an “underdog” on the tree. Having two moms and one that is genderqueer has taught her a lot about how people feel.
She told me she didn’t just choose it because he was an underdog or that she felt sorry for him, she chose it because he was brave enough to ask for what he really wanted, and that he must have had an awesome mom or dad that taught him it was OK to be honest and be himself.
At that moment I knew I hadn’t taught her tolerance of the different kid, I had taught her that everyone deserves to be safe and loved for who they are. I was never so proud of her, and proud of me for her. However, I was never so disgusted at the realization that his gift request was the last one on the tree for a child and had been overlooked and ignored by countless adults. I am sad for their children and those they will eventually have to “tolerate”.
Echo resides in northern New Jersey with her wife and the two youngest of their five children. You can visit her blog at dysphoricallyspeaking.blogspot.com.