Sidey’s weekly theme is “Insult.” Before proceeding with this post, I wanted to make certain that I understood what “insult” means. The definition, the synonyms, the antonyms, etc. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
insult (v.) 1560s, “triumph over in an arrogant way,” from Middle French insulter (14c.) and directly from Latin insultare “to assail, to leap upon” (already used by Cicero in sense of “insult, scoff at, revile”), frequentative ofinsilire “leap at or upon,” from in- “on, at” (see in- (2)) + salire “to leap” (see salient (adj.)). Sense of “to verbally abuse, affront, assail with disrespect” is from 1610s. Related: Insulted; insulting.
insult (n.) c.1600 in the sense of “attack;” 1670s as “an act of insulting,” from Middle French insult (14c.) or directly from Late Latin insultus, from insilire (see insult (v.)). To add insult to injury translates Latin injuriae contumeliam addere.
Entry Word: insult Function: noun Text: an act or expression showing scorn and usually intended to hurt another’s feelings <yelling an insult at the bully was not a very smart thing to do> Synonyms affront, barb, dart, dig, epithet, indignity, name, offense (or offence), outrage, put-down, sarcasm, slight, slur Related Words gibe (or jibe), jeer, sneer, taunt; abuse, invective, vituperation; disapproval, opprobrium; disgrace, dishonor, shame; attack, criticism, slam; torment, torture Near Antonyms accolade, commendation, compliment; acclaim, applause, praise; adulation, flattery
Now that we know, on with the show: We had recently moved to the town of “Conformity-on-Demand,” in the northeastern part of the USA from “The-Place-of-My-Birth” in the southern part of the USA. Actually, the names of the towns don’t matter. Events described in this story could have happened anywhere, (but somehow I doubt it). I was not completely clueless. For one thing, I had two older brothers; so believe me when I tell you, I knew what an insult was. So I thought. Actually, in retrospect, I knew what teasing was, and at the time, they were the same to me. What an insult was, back then I would have called cruelty.
In any event, as I said, I wasn’t clueless, and I had been on the receiving end of both, but cruelty – the few times it did occur before our move – didn’t happen when my big brothers were around. Teasing was traded back and forth good-naturedly in abundance, and I knew how to handle it. Cruelty was something I did not understand, at least on a conscious level. It is probable that I behaved cruelly at times, or had cruel thoughts about others, but I have no memory of them, which makes my story all the more strange.
Memory is a strange thing. We so often remember being “done unto” far more often and more clearly than “doing unto.” Or maybe it’s just me. Fifty years ago, when this story took place, beauty was being redefined. Maybe it is always undergoing redefinition, but at that particular time, the word was undergoing redesign as well as redefinition, and the “under construction” signs were everywhere. What became clear almost from the moment of arrival at Conformity USA was that I would require complete demolition – down to the ground – to be considered an acceptable place to build a house where beauty could live. In my then current state, I was totally unacceptable, and considered an affront to most of my peers.
Chief among my sins was that I was not “Twiggy.” Anybody remember her? At least her, circa 1963? I had never been Twiggy, and my genetic make-up is such that while I might become (and occasionally am) quite slim, I would never nor could I ever be, “twiggy.” It became clear that I was easy to insult. Because I had no experience with it, it showed up on my face immediately, and I had no way to fight back. As an easy target, I became sport among my peers, and to my astonishment, my teachers (not all, but many). I was bullied and abused physically (one push forced a fall in which I broke my wrist). The “bullying” or “teasing” (which my mother called it – she had never faced such a thing before either, and did not understand the reality of the situation), was the most painful. Being surrounded by a ring of girls all screaming “FAT! FAT! FAT!” and not allowing me to run away from them – all this while teachers looked on is something that I have not yet turned loose of, even though I am surely the only one who remembers the incident.
The only positive thing about hanging on to it is that it has made me far more sensitive to the feelings of others than I might have been had I been twiggy at the age of 12 or 13 – surely a horrible age for most people anyway! Another curious and humiliating thing that happened during those years was with a teacher. We had made our move from Texas to Connecticut in September of 1963. In November of 1963, JFK was brutally assassinated while visiting Dallas, Texas. Shortly after that event, I had stayed after school to ask my Chemistry teacher for help on an assignment. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I wouldn’t help you, you nasty Texan.” I was ,even at that age, appalled. I had absolutely no clue what to do or say, so I just left the room.
I have a vague memory of him trying to call me back in, but I could never look at him the same way again, and that particular incident I allowed to become a reason to quit caring about anything. I had never in my life made any grade short of an A-. That year was the first time I failed or got D’s on or in any subject. Please notice that I say that I allowed that to happen. I folded my mental tent and quit on life all by myself. I did not have to react in that fashion, I just did. It was easier, perhaps.
Life slowly got better for me. I had a wonderful and very supportive family, and I had music, and an exemplary, kind music teacher. Those two things saved my life – quite literally – as without them I doubt that I would be alive today. I am one of the blessed ones. So many young people who are bullied and insulted – leapt upon – these days for infractions of the social rules – do not have the advantages that I had and have. They become part of the statistics of teen suicide that is on the rise today. My heart aches for them.
There will always be the question of what one should do when witnessing bullying. If at all possible, find some way to step in and put a stop to it, and better yet, find some way to be a friend to that person. As parents and teachers, (and we are all one or the other or both), we need to be teaching children that diversity of any kind is no crime in and of itself, and insults, bullying, derision, and cruelty have no place in our world. Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” got it ALL wrong. Yes, we can be way too sensitive to good-natured teasing. Developing a healthy sense of self-esteem at an early age is equally important to learning not to try to destroy others’.
In any event, the next time we want to point out what is usually the obvious to someone who no doubt already has heard the helpful information you think you are doling out with your insult, I suggest that we stop and think about how painful and destructive words can be. “Teasing,” bullying, insults. . .everyone has had enough. . . ,