A persons's ignorance should not sway our emotions when it comes to degrading insults they throw our way. Differences such as our race, disabilities, or sexual orientation don't warrant such abuse. Yet, when we approach others with the expectation that they will treat us with respect they may catch us off guard with a degrading comment. We become vulnerable and more sensitive to the emotional effects of what they say. Case in point, on a regular trip to the swimming pool at eight years old I gathered the courage to jump off the ten-foot high dive. As I looked around at the others waiting their turn, I felt a part of an elite group of people overcoming their fear of heights by virtue of their bravery and possibly their desire to impress someone else. Sadly, my expectation of being treated as an equal among my peers was destroyed by a conversation between a boy in front of me and a young adult behind me. "He looks like a midget," the boy said over my head to the young adult behind me. "Yeah, and he runs like a midget too," the other responded with a trailing chuckle.
The comment was devastating on three levels. One, each boy's reference to me in the third person actually made me question my equality as a human being to each of them. I could have been a painting or a statue in a museum. Second, what should it matter how I run? I can get to where I go can't I? And, I'm not putting anyone out of his or her way, especially either of these two, by asking them for help to get anywhere. Third, the blatant use of the word "midget" in itself infuriated me. I thought the young adult, at least, was old enough to know that such a reference was degrading and socially unacceptable. But, I forgot, they did not have access to my time machine for understanding socially acceptable references for race, disability, or, in my case, stature.
As I grew older and found myself in situations where others used "midget" in reference to a little person they saw on television or even me as I passed them in public ("Hey, look at that midget," to coin the kinder of exclamations), I had, on occasion but not very often, the courage to say, "little person. I'm a little person,". I just hoped to educate others on acceptable references for my stature. While some appeared to appreciate this new piece of information, others still brushed it off with the attitude that clearly spoke, "Whatever you say midget." Yet, there was a part of me that was a tad appreciative of their recognizing the fact that I was a smaller person and not a child. Just as hard as it was to educate others on acceptable references for my stature it was just as hard to prove my age could not be determined by my height. What ten, or in this case thirteen, year-old do you know that carries some form of government-issued identification that proves his or her age? On the occasion I am referring to, I was waiting in line to purchase a ticket for a PG-13 movie. A woman standing further down the line behind me made it a point to step out of line, approach me and say, "You're not old enough to watch this movie" (keep in mind, I was standing by myself with no parents or peers my age with me).
"Yes I am. I am thirteen," I responded just wanting to keep things to the point so I could buy my ticket without incidence to diminish my excitement for the film (and I still can't remember what it was I saw. Thanks lady!).
"No, you're not." she asserted, "You're too small to be a thirteen year-old."
One would have expected me to show some outward form of anger or aggression, but I was, and still am, afraid of confrontation. So, I made my point as best as I could, "I am a little person-a dwarf." I said. "I am small for my age."
What a glorious thing it would have been for her to experience the epiphany of the wisdom I was granting her, but it did not happen. Instead, she retorted by saying, "No you're not."
Since that occasion, and gradually with more to come, I learned to make my point once and not waste energy trying to convince people of the facts concerning my stature, or my life for that matter. I began to question, in attempt to see things from their point of view, others' intentions for teasing me, their desire to place me at a level not equal to their own. What would cause them to feel so awful about themselves to want to be so hurtful to others. Such questions must never while the current epidemic of bullying in our country rages on. It was only when I admitted to myself that I was one of them, teasing others for their differences, that I knew something was amiss. It was more than just my personal insecurities and my attempt to put myself at a higher social status than those I teased though. It was about a recent discovery about those who can still smile, laugh, be happy, and survive through the struggles of being bullied. Perseverance.
Being a target of some teasing and bullying myself, you would expect me to know better how to treat everyone else. Whether or not I meant to, I did make a choice to tease some people. Maybe it was an attempt to prevent myself from being the lowest person on the food chain for carnivorous bullies so they could see there was someone else to pick on. Or, maybe it was my attempt at separating myself from those who were bullied to be a chameleon on the playground and avoid being bullied myself. Whatever the reason, I have come to realize was that, on some level, I was envious of the ability of those who were bullied to persevere. They did not crack under the pressure of taunts or aggression. They did not even retaliate with verbally abusive comments, fighting, or vandalism. As much as the bullies teased others, I realized that I myself was, to a degree, jealous of the ability to still enjoy life on some level despite how others treated them. I further discovered that what I said and what I did was an attempt to mask my own fear of being in the same situation as those who were the target of bullying. I questioned my own ability to survive if I was in their shoes. Could I be a content human being by without the same luxuries as others? The behavior displayed was an attempt to mask the fear that I could be them. I had PE-perseverance envy. Not the envy that someone new to learning about Sigmund Freud snickers about, but the envy one person has towards another who is emotionally strong and committed to his or her own happiness. It was like Peter denying Jesus before his crucifixion because he was afraid. By not teasing others, I feared I would be teased myself. Jesus never backed down, gave in, or fought back. But he forgave Peter. I hope those I have teased have forgiven me. Maybe they have because by reason of a simple request for social networking friendship. I was envious of their ability to persevere. Now, it is not envy but admiration for their ability to persevere and welcome me as a part of their lives; a partner. After all, aren't we all in this together?