On a recent winter’s Sunday, a rarity happened. I found myself with enough time to leisurely view a video I’d received over a year ago. I watched Bullied: a Student, a School, and a Case that Made History. I received it from Teaching Tolerance. The back of the video’s jacket read:
This is the story of Jamie Nabozny. His ordeal began in 6th grade and only got worse in high school. Years of unrelenting bullying took its toll. But Jamie decided to take a stand against the bullying he endured and the bullying he knew other students endured. He went to court and fought for the right to be safe at school, even if you are gay. His inspiring story offers hope for the millions of gay and lesbian students who still don’t feel safe at school.
Why did his bullies choose Jamie? They first alluded to his sexual orientation when Jamie wasn’t overtly sexual. Did it start because they perceived him as different?
It’s Bad to Be Gay. What Does Gay Mean?
By third grade, many kids – especially boys – are using the word “gay” pejoratively. They have no idea what it means, but it’s a bad word, and they’re going to use it. By the time they understand it, the negative value of the word in engrained.
I wonder if Jamie felt different. Gay adults often report that before they discovered their sexual orientation, they felt different as a child or teen. It was an inexplicable difference, one not understood. And while feeling different doesn’t predict sexual orientation, it often feels lonely.
A Look at Numbers
There is normal angst in growing up. It’s a tough job for any kid and part of the human condition. Add in feeling different and misunderstood, and the angst is exacerbated. Kids who are bullied for being different are considered at-risk students. And kids, bullied for their perceived or real gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) sexual orientation, are high risk students. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that between 30 and 40% of GLBT kids have attempted suicide, two to three times more than kids with a same sex orientation. Jamie attempted suicide. Intolerance of sexual orientation differences can be a literal killer of our youth.
Self-Acceptance is the Key
While we pride ourselves on being a nation that celebrates the diversity on which we were built, our actions betray our words. Different is OK….unless…..and the conditions start to mount. The truth is that we are a conditional people. We are OK as long as: we’re thin enough, happy enough, educated enough, part of the 1%, part of the 99%, care enough about looks, don’t care about looks, use credit, use cash, etc. Heck! What chance do our kids have at self-acceptance let alone accepting differences?
How You Can Help Kids Build Tolerance By Modeling Self-Acceptance
Judgment, fear, bullying, and prejudice are not going away. We have a chance, though, to guide our kids through them toward acceptance of differences, whatever they may be. We need to help them build a foundation of strong self-acceptance. A kid who is self-secure is better able to accept others and less likely to accept bullying. Here’s how to do it.
Work on accepting yourself first. Stop beating yourself up, especially out loud.
Acknowledge your mistakes and move on. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I thought you were talking when I just told everyone to be quiet.
Admit prejudices and reasons. I have trouble accepting your generation, because you have more opportunities than I did at your age. That’s not fair of me.
Fess up to fears. I’m scared I’ll fail and people will laugh.
Catch yourself being judgmental. She’s a real joke. Oops! I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know what it’s like to be her.
Quietly point out prejudice when you see it, and talk about it to kids. That man made unacceptable comments about women, and I’d like to talk to you about it.
Want to use this article in your ezine or web site?
You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Friendship experts Jane Balvanz and Blair Wagner publish A Way Through, LLC’s bi-weekly articles. If you’re ready to guide children in grades K – 8 through painful friendships:
Jane has been an adjunct professor in counseling education at Drake University. She has volunteered her time as a Hospice grief counselor and serves others as a Reiki Master. Throughout her numerous years in private and public schools, Jane has supported many children who have found themselves in Relational Aggression situations. Jane is co-author of When Girls Hurt Girls�.
“To be nobody but myself, in a world which is doing its best night and day to make me everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting. – e.e. Cummings
I’ve written before about the “luxury” of self-care – shifting our mindset from self-care being something we HAVE to do, to something we GET to do, with the reward being more healthy and full lives.
But what if, deep down, you don’t think you DESERVE a healthy and full life?
What if, deep down, you’re punishing yourself with unhealthy habits because you think you deserve the side effects that result from them?
In my own journey towards self-care, I’ve found that there are three steps to self-acceptance. And I’ve noticed that, for me, they need to occur in this order:
First, I need to accept myself right now, who I am in this moment. I know I have more growing to do, and see the improvements I’ve already made.
Accepting myself as perfect doesn’t mean that I can’t make mistakes or have room to improve. It means that I accept the perfection of the version of myself I am today, knowing that I have the power to learn, grow and change. I’ve found that until I accept myself as I am now, I can’t begin to change.
The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.– Yiddish Proverb quoted in Finding Joy by Dannel I. Schwartz and Mark Hass
Second, I need to learn how to BE myself (most of the time). That means saying “no” when that’s my choice, not automatically doing what everyone else is doing just so I won’t look different. It also means challenging my lifetime of learned behaviours in favour of something healthier.
This is a very important practice. Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself. — Thich Nhat Hanh in Going Home
And finally, I need to learn more about myself and discover who I am truly am, at my core. I do this by observing myself, objectively and from a place of self-acceptance. Good things to notice? Things that make me sparkle and feel more alive; those will be closely linked to my “heart’s desires”, my “life purpose”, and my core values and beliefs.
Also good to notice are the things that get my blood boiling, that I can’t tolerate – if it’s in someone else, it’s usually a reflection of something I wish was different about myself. Or it’s the OPPOSITE of one of my heart’s desires.
From there I start the process all over again, of accepting this new version of myself that I’m continually defining, redefining and evolving.
TAKING IT TO YOUR SELF-CARE PLAN
Smile at yourself in mirror three times every day. I’ve read that just the act of smiling (and for triple the impact, laugh out loud!) shifts us into a more positive mood. Share those positive feelings with the person in the mirror.
Send yourself a THANK YOU card for something you did for yourself. When you do practice self-care, make a healthy choice or stop a negative thought in it’s tracks, reinforce that behaviour, help yourself feel good about it, and you’ll keep doing it.
At the end of the day, write down something that you wished you’d done differently and then forgive yourself for it (this would be a great addition to your gratitude journal).
If you’re not sure how to forgive yourself, imagine that your best friend was telling you about something they wish they’d done differently. What might you say to make them feel better? You could also spend some time writing about how you could choose to do it differently next time.
So many people have “blind spots”; behaviours or personality traits that are having harmful effects that they don’t even realize. If you’re aware of something that isn’t how you want it to be, that’s truly something to be glad about, because now you can move on and choose something different.
(c) Copyright Linda Dessau, 2005.
Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, is the author of “The Everyday Self-Care Workbook”. To find out more about the book, or to receive her free monthly newsletter, “Genuine Self-Care”, visit http://www.genuinecoaching.com/resources.html
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