Children have always been cruel to each other. In fact, people have always been cruel to each other. And they always will be. This is a tough pill for any parent to swallow. We would do anything to spare our children from the kind of suffering that bullying and unwarranted cruelty produce. We would go to the barricades to eliminate any and all injustices that threaten their personhood and future. And yet, frustratingly, there is only so much we can do.
For all time, parents have had to figure out ways to explain the reality of the world to their children; to make their children strong and resilient in a world which will try to break them down. In his book, The Dead Are Arising, Les Payne quotes Wilfred Little, the brother of Malcolm X, explaining what their mother tried to teach them about maintaining their dignity in a racist America.
“My mother always told us that you can handle [slurs] in a way where you make them continue,” he said, “[or] you can let them think they’re not hurting you. She would give an example: if you’re throwing darts at a dartboard, there’s satisfaction you get when you hit the target; when you miss it you get another feeling. Well, she said, it’s the same thing with white people when they’re throwing darts at you by the things they say and do. But if they don’t hit the target, then they won’t get the satisfaction–and eventually they’ll quit. And usually, that’s the way it worked.”
This is a beautiful and powerful example we can pass onto our kids, even though we live (thankfully) in a better time. People are going to try to hurt them. People are going to try to use words as weapons against them. Whatever their vulnerabilities are–height, gender, athleticism, brilliance (or academic struggles), sexuality (or lack thereof)—there will be kids who try to attack, criticize, mock, belittle them for it. There may well be adults who do this too, even into our children’s adulthoods.
Our kids have to learn how to let these blows glance off them. They have to protect the bullseye, not expand it to the size of the entire dartboard by giving the bastards the satisfaction of knowing where their darts hit. More than that, though, we have to remind them over and over and over again that the main reason to protect that bullseye is because that center inside them is good. They are good. They are special…and that is why people target it.