Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To MY 7th Grade Self

Maybe there's something to this.  Last week, I did a bit of "time-traveling".  Almost simultaneously, there was a powerful video released called "To My 7th Grade Self".  Brilliant idea!  If only we could.

Our collective minds were in the same place.  Telling my 7th grade self to get it together and move on would be a life-changing event.  I know that, now.  In their video, speaking to their 7th grade selves would've also been life-changing, for sure.  And, I'm sure that holds true for everyone.  Hindsight is perfect vision.

In both my article and their video, however, one common thread is bullying.  See, it really isn't anything new at all.  It's been going on for as long as I can remember.  Today, however, it seems to have hit a fever-pitch.  In the video, some talk to their 7th grade selves because they were the bully; some were bullied; some were struggling with their sexual identity.  Face it:  the early teen years are hell!!  We go through a myriad emotional changes, hormonal changes, puberty, and social angst.  That's quite a load for a 12-year-old.

From my own perspective, the summer leading into my 7th grade year was one of the defining moments of my life.  However, it didn't have to be, and it shouldn't have been.  The problem was who could he talk to about it?  There was no Internet back then.  There was no Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook to turn to, no Trevor Project.  He was on his own to just wing it and figure it out on his own.  And, that's exactly what he did.  He figured it out and decided that internalizing it was the easiest way to cope.  What a mistake that turned out to be.

From their perspective, there was also a lot of trauma going on that year and the years to follow. The differences are strikingly similar.  What becomes clear is that there needs to be much more resources for all of our "7th grade selves".  The ones who attacked me were only doing what was taught to them:  to be hateful and intolerant.  The ones from the video who were, themselves, bullies can say the same thing.  They didn't know any better.  Why?  Because they weren't taught any better.  They were taught to hate, to be intolerant, to belittle, to...hurt.  What is obvious, by my own story and by the pain that some of the people from the people from the video who were bullies when they were younger, is that the pain and trauma, on both sides of the bully spectrum, runs deep and for a very long time.

As we grow older, and out of those tumultuous early teen years, we who were bullied learn that "hey, it really does get better".  Well, some of us do.  Unfortunately, some of us couldn't wait around long enough for it to get better.  And, those who were our tormentors learn just how much damage they did to another human being.  In most cases, but certainly not all, as the tormentors grow older, they become remorseful at what they did to someone "back then".  In some cases, they learn their lesson too late.  Their actions caused someone to end their life.

Alas, we can't go back and educate our 7th grade selves.  What's done is done.  That's just the way life is.  We live our lives, have our experiences.  We learn and, hopefully, grow from them.  What we CAN do, though, is understand how important being able to go back and "coach" our 7th grade selves would've been, then pass that on to today's young people.

There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could.  They need to hear that their words can be just as deadly as any material weapon.  They need to know that their negative actions can and, in some cases, will cause someone to end their life.  They need to know that the feelings that they're having for someone of the same-sex is okay and normal, that there's nothing wrong with them.  They need to understand that it's completely okay to be just who they are, that they don't have to try to be someone they're not just to fit in.  And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there's nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love.  See, I've said it, they say it in the video:  we are born to love; hatred and intolerance are taught and learned behaviors.  Teaching today's young people that life is about loving and caring is such a very crucial lesson.  Since we can't go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today's youth. There are some who are literally dying to hear it.