When I was six, I went into elementary school. I understand this is a common trauma we inflict on our kids. As trauma goes, it was probably lighter than going to a “real school” because this was a village school, and they didn’t really pay much attention if you were an hour or so late, provided you kept up with the work.
I had an advantage because I could read and a huge disadvantage because I couldn’t write with a quill pen, having learned to write with a ball point.
I remember those early days of school as utter boredom – when the teacher was explaining the sound words made – combined with extreme terror, when she actually wanted to look at my notebook, which was a collection of interesting blots. (I later developed the ability to drop a blot at will. Very useful in dictation as my spelling was even more wretched than it is now.)
Another moment stands out from my early days in school. I’d early on realized the dialect of Portuguese I spoke wasn’t exactly… the common one, not even in the village. Mom was raised in a slum and still speaks oddly. But even at home, we had words we used… Take “retrete” for instance. I suppose it’s from the French for retreat, but that’s how we referred to the bathroom. It’s not an uncommon word but neither is it a delicate one. It’s most often associated with “outhouse.”
So, the first time I stood up and raised my hand asked to go to the “retrete” the entire class laughed aloud, and my teacher informed me the school didn’t have them, it had “casas de banho” – bathrooms, out back.
(Curiously, though both were outside the building, likely for the same reason – because the tech at the time had trouble piercing three foot thick stone walls – grandma’s was a bathroom, with a shower, a sink and a toilet, while the school’s vaunted bathroom was an outhouse, of the format beloved throughout the Middle east, with a hole in the middle of the floor, and no running water. After my first look at them (do you know how good elementary school students are at aiming?) I risked utis by holding it in until I got home.)
There were other instances of this – innocently using a word that made them all jeer and point.
Weirdly I survived intact. I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. It annoyed me no end. BUT I survived it, learned to use the words they expected, and eventually became one of the “accepted leaders of recess” where I de-facto invented LARPGs based on whatever book I’d just read.
Other instances of very hurtful words, when I was too young to build up any protection involved a friend of my dad’s who liked getting in political arguments with me – stupid ones – and tried to end run me and prove how much brighter he was than the eleven year old. Since all his arguments boiled down to “being rich proves I’m superior” (and since he’d gotten rich on some morally dubious speculation game) it shouldn’t have been hard to demolish, but I was a kid, and got confused having an adult argue with me. So then he’d call me a dummy and a communist (!) and say that I only had book learning and nothing more. (Again, I was eleven. Yes, the man had issues. Yes, they eventually caught up with him.)
I used to dread his visits. (There were other reasons too, but we won’t go into that.) But, you know what, I survived his jeering put downs remarkably unscathed.
Add to that that I was the youngest – the much youngest. My brother was the next youngest, at ten years older, and the next after that was four years older than him – of a very large extended family that ran in a pack. It should be normal/make sense for my cousins to realize I was younger and pull punches. But since in the structure of the family I was an “equal” – i.e. same generation – they didn’t pull punches. Some of their good natured (mostly) teasing stuck and I really thought I was stupid for a long time.
Is this an extended whine? Does it mean that I was hurt – hurt, I tell you – and that I suffered like no one else ever has?
I very much doubt it. We’ve now found out self-esteem education is basically a crock. Believing you’re great without having the achievements to back it up doesn’t make you supercalifragilisticespialidosous. It makes you a brittle and touchy person.
Well, I had anti-self-esteem education, through a variety of factors. It didn’t hurt — much. Not long term.
Sure some of it sticks – but it’s due to other things, actually, like the long slog to break into print, and how I was treated for a long time afterwards – and when I go into a new group, I’m awkward and timid (some of that might be innate, mind.) And I have trouble er… making a big deal of my accomplishments. And I HATE being called names.
But for the first, it has given me unusual flexibility. Since elementary, I’ve learned to pick up dialects and see how people behave, and hit the right note. If I’d never had to adapt, I probably wouldn’t know. As for bragging about my accomplishments, yes, it’s cost me in an age when tooting your own horn (as in the publishing I came into. Publishers believed it when writers said how wonderful they were. No, really.) was effective. Now… it’s not so important. I’d rather have achievements than the touting of them. Both, sure, if possible, but if others can do the touting, yay. (Hey, I have come to terms with the fact I’ll have to do some of that myself. Yes. But I’d rather be writing.)
And as for not liking to be called names… really… which of us loves it?
My weird reaction – and it’s a problem mostly when I get beta critiques – is that because of my cousins and because they were so much better/brighter than I (being older), my first reaction when someone says “you did this wrong” is to believe them. It takes me time away and a lot of thought to get past that and say “no, this is right, this is wrong.” It is as damaging as thinking all my words are sacred – but different.
In the same way when someone says “you just said the most stupid thing in the world” I check my work, automatically, because, hey, maybe I did. But I’m unfortunately (of course unfortunately – because if you stop checking you could spin into the nut zone) getting used to the idea that in fact when I get called names by someone on twitter who disagrees with me politically and whose entire rebuttal is “Aahhhhh she’s so stupid.” Or of course “She makes me sick, I want to change my gender.” they don’t in fact have anything to contribute and their opinions are worth as much as monkey flinging poo. Less, actually, since monkeys at least make their area more sanitary, while these people might do otherwise.
So, what is this in the name of? I found myself in the comment section of one of Brad Torgersen’s post, (I think) where a woman was maintaining that saying things about her, even expressed in a polite way, was “an attack.” More specifically to say that she was ignorant of history and being immature was “an attack.” (Even though both were demonstrably true, and people were using examples.)
I found the idea jaw-droppingly insane. Someone might be completely wrong in what they say of you – I’ve been called both stupid and ignorant, and ignorant in my particular areas of knowledge, such as when the precious flower who took offense to my SFWA post said I was a “typical American” who’d “never been out of the country.” I found this annoying, but also very funny, because… well… No contact with reality.
Another example of lack of contact with reality was when someone who used to comment here told us all that in A Few Good Men only the gay guys and women were good. Thereby relegating the uber-father of the plot, Sam, and Mr. Long to “bad guy status” which annoyed me because I couldn’t imagine how someone could have read that book and got that. But it was also funny, because… how could someone have read my book and got that? (And at least two gay guys are not good. Well, three. The gay couple who pulls a gun on them, and Royce, though Royce isn’t bad, he just annoys Luce.)
I don’t read my reviews, as a rule, but when I do, I’m often very amused by both good and bad reviews that refer to a completely different novel. For instance, my first book got a five star review from someone who said it was “Silverdawn’s book. Silverdawn is the best character.” The only problem is that I didn’t then, and I don’t now have a character named Silverdawn.
Now, the reviews that are “true” and critical (even those that are good overall, but hit on one of the flaws of the book) hurt. Badly. This is why I don’t read them, because they can stop an entire book for six months, because I will obsess.
Look, I know my books have flaws. All books have flaws. It’s just at the point of writing them, I didn’t know how to do it better and (we can argue but it’s true) it’s better to put out a few flawed books than to work at the same book thirty yers and never finish. So, Darkship Thieves is really three novellas, and one of the transitions is shaky. Is it a bad book? No. I had to read it recently to get the mind back in the universe, and it’s good (I can say this as it’s far enough it no longer feels mine, if that makes sense) but it is still three novellas crammed into a book and the first transition (the time in Eden until the spaceship theft) is shaky. No more shaky than some Heinlein transitions, but if I were doing it now, I’d know better how to do it.
Older books, like the Magical British Empire (first book, author’s edition, being edited) are more problematic, as I had pacing problems. I knew I had them then, I just didn’t know how to solve them. Now I know how to, but I get very confused on how to integrate the new patches with the old.
Still, what I mean is, I know they have flaws and having them pointed out hurts, because I either don’t know how to fix them, or it’s much too late to do so.
BUT do they hurt me – I mean leave scars at the level of the soul? Oh, for crying out loud. No. would I prefer not hearing them? Sure. Nothing but praise would be great, thank you. (Can we arrange that? Yes?) BUT hearing that my writing started out very slow paced has yet to kill me.
Being called to account for things I’ve done (like when I rebutted an article and called the author Michael instead of Mark) is humiliating but not scarring.
And being called things I’m not – neo-nazi, really? Because Nazis want to make governments miniscule and leave people alone. Yep. Little known fact, Hitler really wanted the state to not intrude in private lives, and left the free market unfettered. Oh, wait, no he didn’t. He arrested people for private behavior (and genetics) and eliminated vast swaths of his country’s population while confiscating their wealth and choosing winners and losers in the economic arena. Sorry, guys. I don’t see what that has to do with small l libertarian me – certainly doesn’t scar me for life. Depending on how ridiculous they are they might make me laugh. Sometimes, if I think that’s what the general public will hear, it will make me worry about sales. BUT scar me for life? Oh, please.
Guys, I’ve been in real fights. I’ve had guns pointed at me. The first time was kind of scarring, but the others are a blur. And unless people were shot near me (or trampled to death in one case, as the crowd panicked. I didn’t see it, but knowing I was there, and it could have been me, if mom hadn’t grabbed me and flattened me against the building doesn’t help) it left no lasting scars.
Am I some kind of special? Oh, please. Life goes on in places where people witness – daily – some sort of horror that’s much worse than any words could be. People who live in Israel and have endured random rocket attacks for years don’t curl in the fetal position and refuse to go on with life.
People in terrible places – like during the civil war in Lebanon or in Detroit today or… — don’t just get scarred for life and become quivering bowls of jelly unable to function.
No, this ability to be “destroyed by words” exists only in the most sheltered of places: academia, the confines of a certain type of NYC publishing, the circles of radical chic when your “speaking truth to power” ultimately amounts to echoing the received wisdom everyone around you echoes.
In a way these people screaming that, oh, when Larry makes fun of them it’s an “aggression” remind me of hyper protected and very young upper class Victorian girls. Or of royalty who were never corrected and never allowed to hear they were wrong. Or perhaps of certain members of the more prudish cults. We used to know a family who was so hyper religious they had decided that THINKING about sin was a sin, even in the sense of knowing sin existed was a sin. So their fourteen year old had never heard the WORD “rape” and didn’t know what it was. They didn’t know anyone in the present day committed murder. The parents protected them from the news (this is one of those worst cases of homeschooling.)
I’m sure that when those poor kids left the house and heard how the world really was it shattered their minds. A similar situation is supposed to have led to the Buddha’s enlightenment.
So when I hear people complain that they were – sniffle, sob – called a name and it destroyed their entire self image/conception of the world/view of men/you name it, my thought is that they too were raised in cult-like protection, and likely the cult was of their own personality. In the misguided idea that building up their self-esteem made them strong, parents and teachers cooperated in making them hot-house plants.
Look, no one likes being called names, being out of step, feeling stupid. I don’t anymore than anyone else does. And I’m not going to say it makes you stronger.
But in a way it does. Being told you’re not right, or you’re not brilliant, or even that you’re fat might not make you stronger. I know – and the rest of you know – it hurts. But it causes no lasting damage. Not if you are a properly functioning adult. And you learn to accept that the universe doesn’t revolve around your belly button and sometimes you’re wrong or doing something wrong.
It might hurt like hell, particularly if there’s a grain of truth in it. And if you’re subjected to nothing but that morning noon and night, it will leave traces (particularly if you’re a child) but that takes an intimate, family abusive situation. Not a passing stranger saying “you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.” (This was fairly normal in Portugal from what I call “three guys outside the tavern” – they thought it was a conversation-opener.)
But don’t go thinking you’ve been “assaulted” or that the person who disagreed with you or beat you at a game (apparently an article now disappeared accused people who beat girls at games of “rape.” No, seriously, and if I can find the cache, I’ll link it.) or even made fun of you for no reason is an ogre and monstrous. They might be right, they might be stupid themselves, or they might lack in social skills. Only in one of those instances should their words even begin to concern you.
So if the worst thing that ever happened to you was being told that your cozy, comfortable worldview was wrong or that some of us disagreed with it, and this led to a shattering of your world and to declaring Larry Correia an evil villain who “hates women” (Oh, please) and Kate and I “the world’s worst people” perhaps you’ve been too sheltered. Perhaps you should join humanity and consider that people who lived through wars famines and plagues had it worse than you. And yet they went on to function fully and to find in themselves nuggets of hope, love and charity which they left us in their work and in the children they reared and who reared our ancestors.
Maybe sticks and stones can break your bones, but words won’t ever hurt you.
Just a thought. And I know it’s crazy. But maybe if you let those who oppose you speak, and meet them in the open marketplace of ideas without seeking to silence them or calling them names, you might find your perfect theories have some holes. Or they’ll find theirs do.
But this requires not screaming assault when the other side gives half as good as they get. This requires not feeding your own paranoia with talk of patriarchy and microaggressions. It requires considering that perhaps maybe that thing in your belly button is just lint, and not the answer to the essence of life.
I know, I know. It’s a crazy idea. But it might just work.