It was while shopping one afternoon in a store that I witnessed a child screaming in frustration at goodness-knows-what when the mother, a rather well-manicured, poshly dressed woman, obviously frustrated beyond reason, screamed back at the kid, “don’t you f**kin’ yell at me you little b*tch! You listen to me and shut up!”
Poshness all dressed up does not confer common sense, emotional restraint, or dignity — clearly.
It took every drop of self-control I possessed to not approach the woman and tell her sotto voce that yelling at a child in a crowded store is cruel and that yelling at a helpless and overwhelmed child makes her look like an ass. What I really wanted to do was duct tape that woman’s rude and crude mouth shut and to bear witness for that kid, to let her see another adult set a boundary, to let that kid know that her mother’s behaviour was wrong, is wrong, will always be wrong. But I didn’t. Instead I took a deep breath, closed my ears and prayed to the gods and goddesses of reasonableness to intervene for the sake of the child and the mother. But I really wanted to do the duct tape thing.
Discipline, setting boundaries and telling a kid she’s wrong is one thing and a necessary thing. Humiliating a child, subjecting her to emotional violence or worse is unconscionable. Not only do mean words hurt, they carry the force of toxic emotional energy behind them. Kids have no defence against the insane, immature verbal, unchecked rage of an adult.
Children take in things people say — their parents, their siblings, other adults, their peers — and understand it in weird, wacky and sometimes very scary ways. I can’t imagine how that little kid was making sense of what her mother was yelling at her, how she was internalizing it and making it part of her self-definition.
It occurred to me as I headed to my car that the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie. It tells kids that they are wrong to feel hurt by mean words thrown at them. Broken bones heal. Broken sense of self? A broken spirit? Not always.
It’s not just kids and out-of-control parents or out-of-control kids and teachers, or out-of-control wannabe politicians and hip-hip artists and reality TV stars or people who are oppressed or the people who are oppressing them whose words are increasingly hurtful. It’s everywhere, anywhere, by all sorts of people: wives to husbands, husbands to wives, dog owners to dogs, kids to kids. What is going on and why is it okay that it’s going on?
Words into weapons, meaning to hurt, meaning to emotionally eviscerate, meaning to diminish, intending to discount. It’s wrong. Anywhere and everywhere by anyone to anyone, it’s just wrong.
Lately, I’ve taken to travelling with heavy-duty duct tape. And I’m not afraid to use it.