Yesterday I got an email message from a former student telling me that I am “fugly” and I need to get on a treadmill and have plastic surgery.
Sure, I’m hurt by this message, but not on a personal level as much as on an intellectual one.
For instance, it doesn’t really hurt my feelings that the student called me fugly or implied I’m overweight. Since I don’t think he really believes I need plastic surgery, his attack is rather toothless. In that sense, it's kind of obvious to me that he was just trying to wound me.
But what really hurts me is that he doesn’t respect me. Because if he did, he wouldn’t be trying to wound me at all.
Like most of the teachers and college professors I know, I work my butt off trying to help students learn the material and become better writers. I give it everything I have, and when school is in session I basically live and breathe my job. Though I don’t have “summers off” in the sense that I still have to work on my writing, I honestly don’t know how I would survive if I didn’t have these three months away from the classroom to recharge.
So when a former student sends me a hateful message—and it happens almost every semester, though it’s usually not this personal—it bothers me because it tells me that the student doesn’t think I work hard or care about my job. Because if the student believed that, he wouldn’t intentionally try to hurt my feelings.
To be honest, it’s hard to imagine any student—this one included—not knowing how hard I work after spending a semester in my classroom, and that’s what really burns me about this message. This kid knows I bust my butt for my students, and despite this, he’s basically saying, “I don’t care how hard you work or how much you care about your students because I still hate you. “ He’s pissing all over my attempts to be a good teacher.
It also bothers me because it’s the kind of comment that’s designed to attack me where I’m most vulnerable, which seems especially cruel. Most of my students learn over the course of the semester that I have a blog about body acceptance, so it’s clear this student thought he could undermine my self-confidence by attacking my physical appearance. It’s a cheap shot, but one he apparently thought would work.
Finally his comments bother me because they imply—especially the “get on the treadmill” comment—that I don’t exercise just because I’m not thin.
Twice every week on this blog I try to send the message that curvy does not mean unhealthy and a curvy person is not necessarily a person who doesn’t work out, but I’m clearly not getting the message across.
Not only do I work out, I work out religiously. I walk every morning—lately for eighty minutes, during which time I alternate between walking and running—and I usually exercise almost every afternoon and evening as well, which is my attempt to follow my own advice that we should all “play and play often.” So when this student told me to get on the treadmill, it actually hurt me more to think he assumes I don’t work out than it does for me to realize that he thinks I’m overweight.
So let me be clear—just because I’m lumpy or imperfect does not mean I am sedentary or lazy. It just means I’m no longer young, and I have a little wear and tear on my body. Of course, when you’re twenty-two, you have no idea that you can do everything in your power to be thin and still fail.
Though all of these issues are a problem, the biggest problem is why anyone—student or otherwise—feels comfortable saying these kinds of hurtful things to anyone else. Whatever happened to the golden rule?
I am not a religious person in the sense that I don’t read a Bible or go to church unless you count communing with nature every morning, but at times like these I find myself thinking of Leviticus 19:18—“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself”—or Matthew 5:39—“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
Which makes me wonder, what makes a human being want to harm another person this way? What kind of issues must one have to be so hateful?
I don’t have the answer to that question, but I do hope that each of us—myself included—will think twice the next time we are tempted to lash out at another.
If need be, think of the Torah, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Quran, the Bible, the Tao Teh Ching. Think of Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, and Confucius. And treat others as you wish to be treated.