Thursday, February 17, 2011

People don't change,
but that doesn't mean you can't

When you’re young, the haters let themselves be known—they toss ugly comments at you in the hallways of junior high and high school like emotional grenades—causing you to cry in the bathroom but also making them easy to identify.

At that age, you’re too immature to understand that these people are not worthy of your tears, but by the time you’re in your twenties, you realize how much time you wasted worrying about what that jackass Tad Hightower said about your pimples in fifth period Spanish class.

But as you get older, the haters become harder to spot.

Like the rest of us, they learn that certain behavior—puking in the bushes, mocking the kid with glasses in the hallway—is not acceptable for adults. At least adults who want to make it in the adult world.

Because of that, it’s easy to think that the haters die out as we age, that people mature and become more kind. That’s why people are always quick to point out that kids are cruel—as if their cruelty can be excused by their age.

The thing is I don’t believe that kids are any more cruel than adults. It’s just that the cruel adults are better at hiding their depravity. No, they can’t call the obese woman in the office a whale like they did in middle school, but they can do other, less obvious–but almost equally hurtful—things.

They can casually mention the fact that they don’t eat sweets after three in the afternoon while everyone else is noshing on the snickerdoodle cookies your best friend brought to work for your birthday. There’s nothing obviously wrong with turning down the cookies, but deep down, the comment hurts—you and everyone. And you think, “maybe I wouldn’t be ten pounds overweight if I didn’t eat sugar after three either.” And for years, you let comments like these eat away at your self-confidence, like a twenty-four-hour buffet of your soul.

But eventually you grow wiser, and you see that even though they are veiled under a screen of politeness, comments such as these are meant to wound. They’re not coincidental. They’re meant to undermine and destroy—without you even knowing that you’re being attacked.

And when you finally figure this out, it’s as if someone has just turned on all the lights in the room. You can finally see things clearly. These are the same people who beat up the boy in the glasses after school, the same ones who wrote the word “slut” on your best friend’s locker after she lost her virginity. These are the haters. Only they’re smarter now and much more sly.

And when you figure this out, you remind yourself again what you’ve known for years . . .

The haters don’t matter.

All that matters is you. And what you think of yourself. The fact that you know you look beautiful—with or with those ten pounds—and that you are intelligent and funny and a hard worker and successful and a good friend, a good person even.

And the next time the haters start to spew their venom-filled crap, you won’t even hear them because you’ll be too busy listening to your internal monologue: you are amazing, you are amazing, you are amazing, you are amazing . . .

A few years ago, almost everyone I knew from grade school and high school got on Facebook and started friending each other. Since I moved away from my hometown in high school, the experience was incredibly cathartic for me—finally, I was able to find out what happened to all of my old friends, finally I had the connection to my childhood I had lacked for so many years.

But after a few months, I noticed that one of my “friends” had unfriended me. This wasn’t someone I barely knew. This was one of my closest childhood friends—I say this despite the fact that it was also someone who hurt me on a regular basis. Still, it wasn’t something I ever said anything about when we were kids—like so many people, I just put up with the cruelty, and we remained friends as long as we knew each other. So I couldn’t figure out why she had unfriended me on Facebook and stayed “friends” with the rest of our classmates.

It was so confusing to me that I emailed another good friend from grade school and asked her opinion about it. I will never forget what she said to me.

“Molly,” she said, “People don’t change.”

She didn’t explain much more than that, but I knew what she was saying—that it may seem like people are mature, responsible adults, that it may seem like they are good people, but that deep down, a person’s character is somewhat set in stone, that someone who hurt you then will hurt you now, and that all we can do is accept that, move on, and focus on ourselves.

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