An Iron Whisper

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For years, I knew that pit in the stomach every morning before school. Like so many others, I was bullied as a kid. A lot.

The first bout began in fourth grade under bright autumn leaves and continued until green buds returned. Three boys a year older than me decided they would make it their almost-daily task to DSC09712meet me at the same place and beat me up. Thing is, I could have avoided them, as I walked home every day and there were multiple ways to leave. I knew this. Yet. Every single day, I would show up. I’d put down my stuff. And…I’d try to win.

It was the 70’s. We didn’t tell. We were raised to believe that it was “part of growing up.” And, at that time, it really was. Some of my peer struggles were pretty extreme. In the sixth grade, I landed in the emergency room for stitches, but lucky that I didn’t lose my left eye. (I don’t think the other kid intended such an extreme result, but…)

It wasn’t just physical. For three years, there were some girls that used to share their opinions of me every day. Which was worse than a fight. Was I afraid of the bullying? I was. Did I hate it? I did. But, I reacted to mistreatment with a stubborn passion that I am forever grateful to my Mum for. When others would say and do things that were unkind, a message would meander through my head. Like an iron whisper. “They’re wrong.”

This was a gift. I know that. And I know that not everyone can react this way. But I do believe a reaction like this can be learned–for self talk is so powerful. When someone else tries to drag us down, most of us react in one of two ways: The first is “I don’t deserve that” which lights a fire inside—the kind of fire that fuels determination and success. The kind of thing that helps people rise above their circumstances. Turns victims into conquerors.

The second reaction is, “They’re right.” A deflation of the spirit. It’s an understandable reaction but one we must all fight to eradicate in the children/teens we know. Actually, in anyone we know.

For me, resilience was honed by being resilient. I have achieved things I never thought I would because I pushed through fear, dismissed the naysayers, and plugged away. There is no doubt that my struggles and heartbreak as a kid have aided in my success along the way. Although, a bit ironic, I think.

I recall when the anti-bullying campaigns were introduced to schools over a decade ago. Being good to each other is a great message, of course. But, with the seemingly constant reports of childhood despair because of bullying by peers…well, I have wondered why we don’t have more calls for resilience as well. A reminder to play the “I don’t deserve this” message rather than giving in to feeling ashamed about labels that someone else pins to us–which are probably inaccurate. After all, a bully’s actions/words have more to do with him/her than their target.

I’ll be honest. I’ve sat and long-stared at victims’ pictures—kids bright-eyed and beautiful and looking like they’ll take on the world when they grow up. Kids who’ve had supportive parents, people who love them…and yet…they end their lives because of bullying. The word, heartbreaking, doesn’t nearly cover it.

I love the “It Gets Better” campaign. It’s gone a long way in showing gay teens that they are not alone and that it really does get better.  Also, there is a wonderful video below done by Megan Kelley Hall, one of the editors of Dear Bully. (The other Dear Bully editor is Carrie Jones) We need more and varied messages like this for kids–and we need to introduce resilience earlier. When I visit schools, I discuss the phrase, “Be someone’s hero.” I touch upon being good to each other, of course. But I also point out that this phrase means being a hero to yourself as well. Knowing that just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. And every time. Every school. I see some faces of kids who I suspect have not heard this before.

Teaching kindness is a such a human thing to do. It’s because we’re protective. It represents our wish for peace and mutual understanding. Our desire to toss out the things about humanity we know don’t shine. It is a lesson we need to continue to teach–and model. I have seen wonderful changes in schools since the anti-bullying campaigns began. Sadly, though, there will be kids who are still unkind. Regardless of these lessons.

So, my hope is that we are spending some time teaching kids to stand tall as well. To be brave. Value who they are—for we all have gifts to offer the world. Know that others’ opinions are not necessarily facts. Self esteem doesn’t come from others; it comes from impressing ourselves. And how do we do that?

Stand strong. Seek out what makes you happy. Shake off the bad stuff and look for the good, because there’s plenty of it. Seek out the people who do care–because they are there. You can succeed. Be happy. Chase down any dream you wish. Make any life you want. Regardless of having been bullied.

Because you are worthy.

Of everything wonderful.

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Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes, inspiring, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “An Iron Whisper

  1. Diane Desmarais

    Lynda, your words are both wise and true. I am glad that you have made it a personal mission to deliver this message whenever you can to those who need to hear it the most. Keep up the good work!

  2. Erin Varley

    Such an important post. I will share it with my students. Our classroom motto of Be Brave aligns perfectly with the sentiments of your piece. Thank you for sharing and being brave!

  3. Love this. Bullying is so prevalent, and it can be subtle enough to go under the radar… thanks for shining the light on it, and keep doing so!

  4. Nathalie Faure

    What a wonderful post, I think helping kids build their self esteem and confidence is just as important if not more as teaching them what they can do and say when faced with bullying. I think back to he challenges that existed when I was in Elementary School- not that long ago, and I think about the world today and how much more complicated it is with technology and social media. I feel particularly strongly about teaching my students how to use these digital tools in appropriate ways but also what to do if someone isn’t. I think the classroom can be a safe place to learn and to be brave where mistakes can be made and confidence can be gained. Thank you so much for your post Lynda and keep up the good work! :)

    • Absolutely! The cyber-bullying is another wrinkle that exists today. Cyber bullying is so bad because I think kids get on a computer and it almost feels anonymous–that they aren’t attacking a “real” person. I mean, I know they know it’s a real person, but the effect *has* to be different. My understanding is that they pull out the stops to be quite cruel with electronic devices. Hopefully, the victims turn off those devices and avoid rereading/reliving the attacks. Complicated world these days–but the reaction should be the same.

      Thanks so much for weighing in–appreciate it so much.

  5. “Being someone’s Hero . . . also means being a hero to yourself.” Brilliantly said, Lynda. Great and important post. Thank you for this!

  6. I love this-thanks. Don’t feel quote so alone. It’s true, the ’70’s was a weird time-you can say that these unfortunate things that happened to kids back then must have scarred us for life, but I can say that, yes, it made me a damn resilient person-more driven to succeed
    Because I decided to be a fighter and not a victim.

  7. Kate–this is fantastic. Exactly the message that kids need to learn. Once learned, resilience serves you throughout your entire life in a variety of circumstances. So important. So glad that you were/are a hero to yourself.

  8. I just finished Rebecca Stead’s book middle-grade novel, “Liar and Spy.” It is multi-layered, but one thread is about bullying, and I liked the way Georges handled it, without adults, and without physical fighting. I myself was a wimp and dealt with bullies by flying under the radar. I wonder what that taught me?

  9. Hey, Cheryl–I would have flown under the radar if they’d have let me. Believe me–that’s the smart thing to do. I felt like I had to stand against them. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I think I felt like it was all I had left. I wonder if we would have become friends in elementary school. I was a gifted artist in second grade–problem with me was that I never really improved after that. :-/

  10. Keep posting, Lynda. You are not alone – I’m so glad you stood strong – I was too meek, but now I am strong. If we only knew then what we know now, right?? I will share your story with my 7th graders – thank you for sharing!!

    • Thanks, Joy! I think we all start out as meek. It’s very scary to be the target of such behavior. Resilience takes practice just like anything else. Would love to know what your 7th graders think of this…

  11. Susan Dee

    Thank you for continuing to share your story with all of us! It’s so important that we all continue to shine a light on this very preventable issue. I’ll be sharing your post with my students!

    • Well, I think you are one of the best teachers ever (I’ve seen for myself :-). So, if you think this is worthy of sharing with kids, I’ll take that as a high compliment. Thanks, Susan!

  12. Vicky VanFradenburgh

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt post. I’m sorry you had to go through that. Bullying is something I cannot stand and my Ss know this. I will be sharing this. Thank you.

    • Hey, Vicky! I’m so glad that this resonates with you as a teacher! Would love to know what the kids have to say. Thanks so much for sharing with them :-)

  13. Beautiful post and I really enjoyed reading ONE FOR THE MURPHYS. I’ll have to add BREAK THESE RULES to my TBR pile–thank you!

    • Hey, Marcia! Thanks for stopping by :-) And thanks for your kind words re: One for the Murphys. I love Break the Rules–loved so many of the essays in it. Hope you enjoy it, too. :-)

  14. Thank you for opening up about your experience, Linda. I just posted a piece on my blog for National Bullying Prevention Month about nonconforming kids who often don’t receive the support they need to get this message. Kids don’t automatically become resilient; they need help from caring adults. Too often, adults — including parents, teachers, and other school officials — send the message that kids on the bottom deserve to be there. What helped me rise above the bullying that I experienced was coming to see it in the larger social context and becoming an activist to help others who faced intimidation, exclusion, and injustice. But we can’t blame the kids themselves for not standing tall, for not having the same kind of resilience that you developed, and often the kids who regularly turn up as the bullies’ targets do so because they are vulnerable. These are the kids who need mentors to stand tall with them and to show them how to do it.

    • Hey, Lynn ~ Actually, to be honest, the bullying started because my fourth grade teacher made a habit of saying publicly that I was “hopeless and too stupid to amount to anything.” No coincidence that the bullying began there–the other kids picked up that ball and ran with it. You’re right–I was *very* vulnerable. I think that is kind of my point, actually. Bullies prey on the vulnerable–absolutely! That’s why it’s so important that kids learn to make themselves *less* vulnerable.

      Absolutely! I’m all about kids reaching out for help (In fact, One for the Murphys is about resilience being that very thing:-) Years ago, I did a lengthy research project trying to figure out WHAT makes a child resilient. Turns out that no matter, race, geography, economic standing, etc., the number one attribute of a resilient child/teen is the ability to ascertain which adults are trustworthy as mentors and reach out for help.

      Yes, we absolutely have a responsibility (and genuine desire to do so) to help kids learn resilience. I do believe it can be learned. And practiced. Once learned, it is something that a person relies on through their lives for dealing with every facet of life. As a teacher, I used to role play with my students. I’d let them “be the bullies” and I would model resilience. What to say as well as what body language to use.

      But, I also believe that such role playing must be practical. A sixth grade boy telling other sixth grade boys that “it hurts his feeling when…” (as my health curriculum mandated I tell them) is going to run into more bullying. So, we’d role play shrugging. Walking away as if the bully’s words were insignificant. Sad that it has to be that way, but from what I saw as a teacher, necessary. At least in some cases. I think I was a pretty good teacher, but of all the things I taught, I got more thank you note from parents on those lessons than anything else. You’re right, Lynn! Kids need that guidance.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Lynn, and sharing your thoughts. Getting the word out is so important! Most authors are suckers for kids. The two of us are, anyway. :-)

      • How do we address the fact that adults are sometimes the ones who instigate the bullying, as your fourth grade teacher did? That was what stood out for me when I watched the HBO documentary “Valentine Street” earlier this month (which I talked about in my blog piece). You make a good point about the ability of resilient kids to identify the adults who can be trusted to serve as mentors. Plenty of kids put misplaced faith in adults who then drag them down with negativity or, worse, exploit their vulnerability. ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is a very good book to address this issue, because Carly must learn to trust an adult who can help her as well as break away emotionally from one who can’t.

        • Well, Lyn, I really think teachers like mine are in the minority these days. I know so many who go to bat/stick their necks out for kids every day. Thank goodness for those people!

  15. Sorry about misspelling your name. I was so eager to comment that I didn’t proofread. ;-)

  16. This is such an excellent post. I am grateful to the friend who led me to it, and I am grateful to you for having written it. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, my youthful response to bullying was to shrink into myself. It took a long time for my self-esteem to build. It was helped by my wise parents getting me involved in a girls’ group in another town, where I flourished. But it also helped me to hear my mother’s stories of helping a tiny kindergartner, one of her students, stand up for herself among the bigger kindergartners who wanted to carry her around and treat her like a baby.

    I particularly appreciate these words of yours “Stand strong. Seek out what makes you happy. Shake off the bad stuff and look for the good, because there’s plenty of it. Seek out the people who do care–because they are there. You can succeed. Be happy. Chase down any dream you wish. Make any life you want. Regardless of having been bullied.”

    I firmly believe that. I am grateful that I found such people while I was growing up, and still have such people in my life today. I hope I can model standing strong for others.

    Now to share this wonderful post with others…

  17. elainekielykearns

    Lynda, I will be reading this to my students tomorrow. Thank you for sharing your story with us. A big hug to you for wearing the cape. You are my hero!

  18. Love your post Lynda and I love the video just as much. Thank you for sharing both!

  19. betsydevany

    Lynda, this heartfelt post struck a cord with me, exactly the way your wonderful ONE FOR THE MURPHYS did. By the time I reached the end of reading both, I burst into tears. There is raw emotion in hope, which you offer with your words, your generous spirit, and your honesty. So thank you for sharing this beautiful post.

    “Stand tall as well.” “Value who you are.” “Seek out the people who do care.”

    If we can each teach one child to “stand tall,” tall in the face of bullies, tall in the face of defeat, and tall in the face of everyday challenges, then together we lift the face of humanity, allowing it to “stand tall” as well.

    I saw this theme played out in my life last week when I was volunteering in my granddaughter’s second-grade class. I’d noticed her hunched in the corner, sullen. The teacher was reading CHARLOTTE’S WEB aloud. Another girl had forgotten her copy of the book at home, and my granddaughter offered hers, and then just sat there, after letting the girl sit below her with her book, while she no longer was able to read along. I learned later that a boy had tattled on her after the teacher finished reading. I was busy grading papers and didn’t notice the exchange.

    When the teacher asked if what the boy said was true, she said, “Yes, I did punch him in the arm, twice.” Hearing this, I prepared to learn her consequence. Instead he said how proud he was that my granddaughter stood tall on her own. When the teacher had asked why she hit his arm, she said, “Because he was trying to kiss me. And you can’t just do that. I didn’t want him kissing me, and he kept trying.” The tattler then admitted the truth, while my granddaughter was praised in front of him for believing in and sticking up for herself.

    And so she and I discussed the incident after I read your post to her. She told me she asked to be moved from sitting next to him in class. She is seven, and yet she has an old-soul kind of empathy. So I asked her how she felt about the boy now.

    “Well, Grandma, I hope he can stand tall himself one day.”

    And this is why I have such hope for our world, and why I plan to share these (your) beliefs with as many children as I can.

  20. Fantastic! Thanks for this.

  21. Jessica

    Beautiful and powerful post. I still get that twinge in my stomach when I think about the days I had to walk the long way home to avoid getting beaten up in 4th grade. Being the new girl was the only “fault” I was aware of. I wonder what would have happened if I stood strong instead? This message is so important for parents as well. They need to realize the wonderful in their children – even if it is different than they had “planned”.

  22. Sarah Corson

    Lynda, your blog post got me in the gut. You make the world a better place—person by person, word by word, post by post, book by book. You’re tough and sweet in the nicest combination imaginable.

    As a first grader, I walked the nearly half mile to our little red schoolhouse for the very youngest grades. My next older sister peeled off to go to the bigger kids’ building. The teacher’s son and his gang had told me they’d be waiting for me. Indeed, they were. I walked step-by-step, closer and closer, as they blocked the way to the door. The teacher was inside. The other children had gone in to escape the wintry cold. I got pelted with snowballs. The teacher’s big son in second grade got me in the eye. After the snow melted that spring, I rode to school on my little hand-me-down nothing of a bicycle. One day I found “they” had put a big rock in the wire carrier. And so forth. I dealt with incidents on my own.

    Then there was the time when we first and second grade girls were held inside at recess to witness the teacher laying a classmate over a desk, exposing her bare bottom, and spanking her with the back of a hairbrush. (The teacher was the mother of the snowball guy.) What does a little kid do with that kind of experience? Ouch!

    As I grew older, I realized I’d learned tons about empathy. Some of the awful experiences certainly translated into making me a better person and a helpful teacher.

    But . . . lucky me. I had caring adults in my life, not to solve my problems, but to propel me onwards. Many kids do not.

    RESILIENCE!

  23. Hayley Barrett

    I’d like to put a word in for the power of positive peer pressure. Kids with greater social capital and better social skills can do a lot to make bullying uncool. Even if they don’t actually befriend a kid in trouble, they CAN make sure no one mistreats them without consequences. A few pairs of friendly, watchful eyes and ears can make all the difference to someone who is struggling to get through the day.

  24. Hey, Everyone!

    The winner is… @erinvarley ! YEAH! Please DM me on Twitter with a mailing address to your school and I will send out your signed books and some goodies for your students ;-)

  25. Thank you for this post. I struggle with our relentless focus on rehabilitating the bully. They work around adults. The child being bullied needs to be empowered in the way you have shared here. Thank you for giving me to think about…

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