Julia, 10, came bounding into my office and shouted, “OMG, it worked!” Her energy screamed confidence and pride. This was a 180-degree switch from her visit with me two weeks prior, when she felt like a victim to the Queen Bee in her class. What had changed? She had learned and then utilized some skills to handle teasing and bullying in school.
I worry that we are raising a generation of girls who allow themselves to be victimized by words and gestures. When a girl comes home from school and tells her parents that someone called her names at recess, the typical response is something along the lines of, “You poor thing, she was really being mean to you.” Girls like Julia are led to believe that it’s normal to allow your feelings to be hurt by words, and I believe that sets them up for more abuse and perpetuates bullying in schools.
I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him. Booker T. Washington; founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama
I heard a story about Booker T. Washington that reveals a different reaction to disrespect.
One day, as he passed the mansion of an elderly wealthy woman, to whom he was just another black, he heard her call out, “Come here boy, I need some wood chopped.” Without a word, Washington pulled off his jacket, picked up the ax and went to work, not only cutting a pile of wood but carrying it into the house.
A moment after he left a servant told the women, “Ma’am, that was Professor Washington, the President of the University.” Mortified, the woman went to the Institute to apologize. Washington replied, “There’s no need for apology, madam. I’m delighted to do favors for my friends.” The woman became one of Tuskegee’s warmest and most generous supporters.
Booker T. Washington refused to be disturbed by insult or persecution, and thus kept his peace of mind. He didn’t take the disrespect personally, and thus kept his power. I want every girl to deal with relationship aggression in this way.
How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged. Kushandwizdom
I teach girls in my retreats and camps that when someone calls them a disrespectful name, to imagine in their mind that they were called a tomato. The normal response to being called a tomato is to laugh, because you know you aren’t a fruit, so it makes no sense. The trick is to make every word a ‘tomato word’ by saying to yourself, “Just relax Tim, I’m not a tomato, I’m not going to give my power away, I’m in charge of my feelings and reactions, I’m not a tomato…” and then smile and walk away unperturbed.
I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet. Gandhi
That is what Julia had done after my counseling session. She bought the notion that there are no ‘mean words’, just words. We all have the ability to make any words ‘tomato words’ and to not let people get to us. The same goes when a “friend” tells you about a negative rumor going around about you. I encourage girls to say, “Thanks for caring about me, but I really don’t want to hear rumors; they’re not true and I don’t need to hear that garbage.” In this way, the rumor stops with you because you gave it no energy or power.
Whether you are talking about strengthening girls or women empowerment, teach them that they are in charge of their emotions and reactions to teasing, and guide them to keep their power. Julia felt like a heroine, and so can your daughter.