Bravery: To stand up against evils large and small

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

That old truism has long been debunked. People who are prone to low self-esteem (such as teenagers) usually can not just ignore comments about their weight or their looks made from their peers (as in, other teenagers). Girls who have been called “fat” will desperately starve themselves to lose weight in an effort to stop the teasing – only to find that the clique of “mean girls” will just find something else to tease them about. In fact, these “mean girls” usually have a never-ending supply of hate that they’re more than willing to spew at those around them just to make themselves appear superior.

Physical bullying, beating someone up, is a horrific experience, don’t get me wrong. But too often verbal bullying is trivialized and made to seem “not so bad” when in fact, not only is it just as bad, it’s sometimes worse.  Verbal bullying is insidious and unceasing – especially with today’s technology of Facebook, Twitter, email and so on.

Bullying in school has long been considered an inane “rite of passage.” I don’t ever remember a teacher in my school standing up for a bullied kid – but then, most kids who are bullied don’t “squeal” to their parents or teachers in authority because they think that will just make the bullying even worse, and they’re usually right. Sadly, the school system (especially back in my day) is just not willing to do the right thing and stamp out bullying once and for all…even when concerned parents take a stand.

Instead, they turn a deliberately blind eye until something tragic happens.  It should never get to that point, people.  And this mentality has unfortunately crept its way into the minds of too many young people (hell, even adults). Kids will simply stand by and watch bullying without doing anything about it or they walk on, keeping their head down and not getting involved.  But if the bullied kid tries to fight back and becomes a “squealer” or a “tattle-tale” – they will shake their heads in contempt and wonder why the victim (except they don’t think of the word victim) can’t fight their own battles! These people don’t understand that it’s a battle that cannot be won alone.

It takes a brave person to stand up against the bullying of others – stand up for a new girl against a “mean girls” clique, and all of a sudden they’ll likely start targeting you, too – but it takes an even braver person to stand up against her own bullies.

I’m thinking of the story I just read about 14-year-old Carleigh O’Connell, over at the Huffington Post.

carleigh

Click photo for story

If you don’t want to click the link in the photo, I’ll tell you the story. She’s a normal sized girl, with normal sized hips – not a skeletal stick figure which is what all the girls are apparently supposed to look like these days. Someone spray-painted the words “Carleigh’s Ass” on a cement block located at a popular beach spot where everyone in town could see it.

Carleigh was initially hurt and embarrassed – who wouldn’t be? – but then she decided to show her would-be tormenters that they couldn’t push her around. She dressed in a bikini, stood on the block with her butt to the camera, and proudly showed it off. She shared the photo on social media and it has gone viral.

She’s being praised as someone who is sticking up for healthy body images for girls. I mentally applauded her for the way she handled the situation. Hell, I gave her a standing ovation.

And it got me to thinking some more.

What is bravery? To me, I don’t think bravery can simply be summed up as doing something that should be rewarded with a knighthood, a treasure, a medal, a trophy, or a statue. True bravery can be, and often is, small. It can be something other people don’t even notice. It can be a quiet, personal message to one other person if you want it to be. Or it can even be just for you.

Simply facing a bully or in this case fighting back against graffiti is an act of pure bravery.

What I wish would happen is that instead of bullying photos or comments making the rounds at the speed of light, we turn it around so that the bullies are the ones who look ridiculous.  At the speed of light.

In this day and age of social media, it would only take one or two people to get the ball rolling.  Instead of staying silent when you see someone being bullied (or worse, joining in because of peer pressure), you flip the script and call out how horrible of a person the bully is and post a comment on FB or other social media that draws attention to how this certain person is being unjustly cruel to someone else.

Yes, yes, this is definitely a case of fighting fire with fire, but is that so wrong?  This is not a problem with a simple solution. I bet it would cause some hot debate in an ethics class.  Is bullying a bully or rather “outing” a bully considered bullying?  Why should they be allowed to hide behind their atrocious personality or anonymous online postings?  Shouldn’t they be forced to come out in the open so people can make a judgment call on THEM and THEIR behavior?

I say yes.  What do you say?

Carnival Ride: 1 — Me: 0

My daughter and I went to the local fair recently. A 4-H fair. They’re always fun…we like the animals, the food, the vendors, the rides. Most of the rides anyway. The scrambler and the tilt-a-whirl are our favorites. Unfortunately this fair didn’t have those.  So on this particular day, we tried a ride called the paratrooper. It didn’t look so bad from the bottom. It went round a bit fast but then we like that. It was clearly an ancient model but nonetheless it had to be sturdy, right?

Kent County Fair

it just sits there…gloating

However, as we sat there at the very top waiting for the lower cars to be loaded, the loose gate on our seat, the lurching of the cab, and the overall feeling of being tethered to nothing while sitting several stories in the air all combined to create an “okay, this is no longer fun” kind of a feeling.

Have I ever mentioned I’m afraid of heights?  Well, not heights so much as falling.

Long story short, I think that the only thing more embarrassing than desperately demanding to be let off of a carnival ride because of an impending panic attack would be to actually pass out and/or simply drop dead from fright on said carnival ride.  Guess the ride operator should be glad that I didn’t completely screw up his day with the latter.  I imagine the paperwork required would have been awful. From the scowl on his face though I don’t think he appreciated my consideration.

And how was your weekend?

Welcome Home

Whenever I get home my lovely, adorable beast of a dog always greets me the same way: as if I have been away for ten long, hard, lonely years. He’s a wiggling, jumping, chaotic mess. Ironically he’s so damned excited about me petting him that he moves too much for me to get a hand on him for the first 30 seconds or so. It’s always this way.

Sometimes I’m gone all day so I sort of understand that, but other times it’s like he has short-term memory loss. I can literally leave the house, walk to the car to grab something out of the back seat, come back to the house, and he’s throwing a party for my return like I’d been gone since 1999.  Did I mention he watches from the front door?  So it’s not as though I’m even out of his sight on these brief forays out into the wild.

So, obviously, the only thing I can think of when this happens is “how freakin’ cute!” but recently a behaviorist acquaintance of mine recommended that I get my dog’s behavior under control!

Apparently, a dog should not be greeted by the owner while it’s in this chaotic, uber-happy, excited state. I should wait until he’s calm and collected before acknowledging his presence. This is literally the advice I received: ignore my dog until he gets his shit together.

Cesar Millan also promotes this same strategy which for many people would settle things. “The Dog Whisperer said to ignore your dog? Case closed.” But I’m still skeptical. No offense to Mr. Whisperer but I’ve watched his show many times and I’ve read his “theories” and he does a great many things that I don’t agree with and quite frankly cannot even fathom as making any sort of sense whatsoever.

For me, I can only think about how hurtful it would be for a beloved animal, a tender pet, and a part of the family to be SOOO happy to greet the love of his life only to be ignored, rejected, and sent away to another room (and yes, animals have feelings).

Imagine if you were treated this way. You run up to your mom or sibling or best friend, are super excited to see them so you’ve got a big smile on your face and have your arms up in the air anticipating a big hug as you skip over and, boom, rejected. They send you away until you know how to behave in public. I can’t deal with your love right now!  Come back when you like me a little less and have yourself under control would you please!!?? Once they deem you capable of having a civilized conversation you’re allowed out of the corner and may be recognized ever so nonchalantly. How terrible would this make you feel?

And quite honestly, I’m usually just as excited to see Rufus as he is to see me.  Maybe not so much on my two-minute dash to the car and back, but I love the little guy and love that he’s so open about his unconditional devotion to me. Since when did it become a good idea to reject love?  Or excitement at our arrival?  I don’t know about you, but I just can’t afford to reject that kind of love.  I need love in my life.  Even if it’s from our furry four-legged friends.  Especially from my furry four-legged friend because some days he’s the only one in the house who is happy to see me when I get home.

Rufus

 

The Pied Piper…or maybe not

Have you ever given a compliment to someone and realized what you were actually saying is pretty mean? The good ol’ backhanded compliment. A couple of typical examples are “You’re smarter than you look!” or “Look at you already at the restaurant. I totally wasn’t expecting you to be on time.” or “That dress is so great at distracting attention away from that horrible haircut.”

I think there’s another lesser known term that I would like to dub “backhanded labels.” What’s a backhanded label, you ask? Good question. It’s when you try to define a person by something they’re good at but what you’re calling them is actually a terrible thing.

I noticed this myself recently because people often tell my daughter she’s the Pied Piper. She isn’t particularly keen on toddlers (understatement of the year), but for some reason they absolutely love her. They flock to her whenever she’s around. She doesn’t even have to know the kid and she’ll still be the light this cherubic little moth flies too. Hence the Pied Piper title. Seems great, right? The Pied Piper, a jolly merry man with a mystical flute who skips around the neighborhood collecting kids in his moving soul train line.

Wrong!

If you take the original story at face value, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a horrible, disturbed, creepy man. He was a predator whose main targets were young children. When he wasn’t paid for his rat trapping services, he decided to trap the town’s children in retaliation. Using his hypnotic melody he would steal children out of their homes, lead them away from town, and do God only knows what with them. I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks. The point is, the kids who followed the Pied Piper never came back so he either a) killed them, b) sold them into child labor, or c) they got away never to return home but still lived a happy prosperous life elsewhere (yeah, right).

The other school of thought on the Pied Piper is that the story serves as a metaphor – the “Pied Piper” being a plague that wiped out the town’s youth. Oh, well then, that’s a much better way to think of the Pied Piper, isn’t it!?

Sooo…the two possible interpretations of the legend are a pedophile/child trafficker AND a plague. So why in the hell do we now use the phrase as if it’s a GOOD thing?

I’m guilty of this myself. In the past I’ve called my mom the Pied Piper of squirrels. Not because she leads them away to some mass grave she’s been accumulating to slake her rodent bloodlust, but because squirrels love her and follow her around. My daughter definitely wouldn’t go postal and kill a bunch of children, nor does she have the wherewithal to sell them into slave labor. And while they both can be irritating at times I don’t think I’d ever go so far as to call either of them a “plague.”

It’s just amazing to me how history gets misinterpreted or flat-out changed after enough time has passed. People should be greatly insulted if they’re ever called the Pied Piper. That’s your history lesson for the day. So before you dole out what you think is a compliment, make sure you’re not accidentally implying that the person is a serial killer. Or a plague. Words to live by.

 

pied piper

 

The Timeless Art of Debate

The timeless art of debate. At its greatest, it is a showcase of two opposing views finding mutual respect for each other’s perspectives and in the end each walks away not only swelling with pride at the affirmation of their own beliefs, but able to further understand the rationale behind their opponents differing opinions. At its worst, people call each other doody-head and stick their tongues out whenever they hear something they don’t agree with.

Oh, how I wish that second half wasn’t true. Sadly, even though that juvenile behavior is a shameful thing to see displayed amongst first graders, we adults haven’t evolved much past that either. Sure we gussy it up some and cover it in anger, but that’s all just smoke and mirrors to the reality that when we don’t get our way, some of us become assholes.

I’ve recently been noticing more and more that someone, let’s call him Joey, will start a conversation (either in person or on Facebook — that wonderful venue for open discussion) that promotes an idea that differs from what someone else, let’s call her Monica (I may have watched some Friends re-runs recently, don’t judge), believes. The back and forth starts and for some reason instead of staying civil, it turns into an all-out argument where both Joey and Monica are getting defensive and trying to cut down each other’s arguments by calling them unsubstantiated. Why can’t we all seem to remember that, hey, it’s FINE if someone believes something different from you? It’s not the end of the world people and I hate to break it to you, but what you believe is not always the only right answer.

Now, if we’re talking about a fact-based argument then it gets a little murkier, but it still boils down to the same thing: belief. Joey can substantiate his viewpoint and provide BBC links and NPR interviews and whatnot, but if it’s something Monica really doesn’t want to believe then all that “proof” doesn’t mean anything. She’ll just find her own proof or take the ace from her sleeve and point out that not everything that is printed is actually true (shocking, I know) and then we’re right at the beginning again.

I can speak from personal experience. Recently I was giving someone a little industry info that’s been gathered from years of extensive research, investigations and inside information. You know, the things I’ve seen with my own two eyes and talked about with people who were actually on-site. But I was re-buffed, doubted, and scoffed at because what I was saying hadn’t been published in the paper. “How can it be true if it’s not in the newspaper?” was the look I got in return.  Because the newspapers didn’t pick up the story it might as well have been a fairy tale.

Facts are still facts even though they don’t show up in the press. A tree still makes a sound when it falls and no one’s around to hear it.

Since when does public accessibility mean that something must be true? That’s like saying that just because Katherine Heigl has been in movies she must be a good actress. Visibility should not automatically bestow validity. Watch an episode of Friday Night Lights or Almost Human and try to tell me that Minka Kelly can act. Sure, she’s on screen but that doesn’t mean jack. Just because something can be seen doesn’t mean it should automatically be believed. Especially when dealing with the press.

So these debates keep driving and driving and driving themselves towards a cliff where both sides shut off from hearing what the other has to say. That’s when posts get deleted or comments dismissed that have anything whatsoever to do with a perspective that differs. It’s just so incredibly frustrating to talk to people who are hunkered down in their ideals and resist taking the blinders off.

Let’s really think about that metaphor. What if you actually had blinders on that only allowed you to see what’s directly in front of you? Sure, you may like what you see so why change? I get that. But think about how much you’d be missing without any peripheral vision. It’s like our mental peripheral vision is slowly going and we need to get it back before our tunnel vision steers us in the wrong direction.

nifty argument techniques

nifty argument techniques from the ever hilarious Dave Barry — sadly too many people take these ideas to heart

Internet Ease

The debate will never end on the pros and cons of the convenience given to us by the Internet. The world is literally at our fingertips, able to give us answers in a microsecond to some of the most absurd questions you could ever think of. (Who was the assistant manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1974? What’s the name of that hunky news anchor in Plano, Texas I saw on Anderson Cooper 360? When were China’s terracotta soldiers discovered and which Emperor built them? What is this thing growing in between my toes? What did Ryan Reynolds look like in high school? How many buttons does it take to button a two button suit?) It never ends. It’s all right there laid out in front of you.

That makes life SO easy in so many ways. I can’t imagine what it used to be like when letters had to be put on horses and galloped across the country. Or sending a telegraph hoping it would be delivered on time. I can get a message to China in under a minute now.

Here’s one of the numerous buzz-kills I’ve been struggling with. With all of this information so ready for consumption there’s really nothing that can be hidden from the public eye for very long any more. If anything is even marginally important or an event will be attended by more than 20 people, there’ll probably be grainy pics from a spy cam on the web well in advance.

Of course this affects me directly when I think of movies (mostly Marvel Comics and the like). Back in the day when a great movie came out everyone was absolutely thrilled after its release. We’d memorize all the lines, act out the scenes, put ourselves in the shoes of the heroines and swoon over the heroes (or vice versa depending on who’s reading this). We all would hope for a sequel but we wouldn’t find out about it until pretty shortly before it was actually released. So what did we do after the movie left theaters? We moved on. We found another great movie. That was back then in the PI (Pre-Internet) Age.

Now, what do we do? We want a sequel so we read posts on comment forums about “a source” that says that the studio is definitely thinking about doing a sequel or the writer was quoted as saying at a Comic-Con in San Diego that he has ideas on where the story would go if there is a sequel. And that’s enough to fuel us for months.

Then, when a sequel is actually being filmed there’s the inevitable roll out of unauthorized pictures, authorized pictures, Tweets from the director, teaser trailers, and the list goes on. There are already pictures leaking from the set of Avengers 2 and that’s not coming out for another year.

Hell, Marvel executives have already publicly stated that they have a plan for how they want to shape the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to 2028. 2028! They’re planning movies up to 14 years in the future…and letting us know about them too so we now have years to watch the clock ticking by ever sooo slowly as we await a release date so far in the future we’ll probably have new jobs, new hairdos, new cars, and new kids by the time it actually comes out.

Is it torture to have all this knowledge? The old saying goes that patience is a virtue but I tend to just find it to be a pain in the ass. Then again, the assurance that there is something great to look forward to does make each morning just a little bit brighter. Oh, Internet, how you fool with my heart!

One Crazy Cat

So my cat is “neurologically off.” Note that I didn’t use the word “crazy.” Crazy could mean anything. It could mean that she does silly, unpredictable stuff at the most random times to which every other cat owner in the world would raise their hand and say, “So?” All cats are “crazy” in the cutesy, abstract sense. I get that. I want to be very clear that my cat has gone beyond that barrier into the land of true mental disorder.

Neurologically off is the term I use simply because that’s the phrase my vet used when he was kindly trying to soften the blow that comes when you have to tell someone their beloved pet is “special.”  To be honest, he didn’t need to be so gentle. We already knew that something was a little off. Taking her to the vet was just to get that 100% certainty that she’s not all there.  It pains me to admit that my cat might not be the sharpest claw in the paw. But facts are facts: the lights are on but nobody’s home.

staring at the closed blinds

staring at the closed blinds

She thinks her name is pshpshpshpshpsh (that silly noise us cat owners make when we try to coax the cat to come our way and which I obviously can’t spell). Seriously. No matter what nook or cranny of the house she might be exploring at any given time, if you even whisper that noise she’s there, at your side. I would say she “magically appears,” but that’s not true. She’s kind of a big cat, and clumsy/awkward, so the house always shakes a little when she jumps down from whatever lofty spot she has found herself in and hearing her come down the stairs sounds a bit like a herd of elephants. The cool thing is she doesn’t think it over. She doesn’t assess the pros and cons of her decision or think about what’s in it for her before responding…like our other cats do. She hears that prompt…I’m sorry, her name…and it’s like she’s drawn in from a laser beam.

Also, her depth perception isn’t exactly crisp. Sometimes she’ll saunter up to rub on my leg and miss by a good two feet. Same if she comes in close for a loving “head-butt.” If you don’t meet her more than halfway she’ll totally whiff on it.

Part of her problem, or rather, part of her personality stems from when she was a baby and we first rescued her. She was sick with an upper respiratory illness. Contagious to our other cats but not to us or our dog Rufus. Because of this, she spent several weeks contained in rooms with just my daughter and me and Rufus. She and Rufus became fast friends. Coupled with the fact that Kitten (yes, that’s the best we could come up with for a name) was likely separated from her mother too soon she adapted to Rufus and now shows definite signs of canine behavior.  It’s a hoot.

she likes sleeping in my lap

her favorite sleeping position

What she lacks in mental acumen she more than makes up for in heart. She’s quite possibly the sweetest cat in the world. She gives love to everyone and wants nothing but love (and attention) in return. She doesn’t fall into any of the nasty stereotypes cats are often prone to (the bitchiness, the scratching, the pooping on your bedroom pillow, etc).

Maybe she getting a bad rap by being called neurologically off.  I’m not sure what the vet’s agenda was in telling me this, except maybe to explain some of the behaviors we had already seen. But his diagnosis doesn’t make a bit of difference. She’s a part of the family, she’s loved, and she’s perfect just the way she is.