When Words Hurt: Picking Your Battles With Bullies

I love award shows. I enjoy every aspect: the red-carpet interviews, the fashion, the spectacle of the award show itself, I love it all. So, like many I was parked on the couch this past Sunday getting my fill of all things Oscars and rooting for Benedict Cumberbatch because he is fantastic! And along with millions of viewers, I watched Will Smith slap Chris Rock. My first reaction was that it was part of the show. I quickly learned that it wasn’t a staged bit, but a raw and visceral reaction to a cruel “joke” made by a bully at the expense of Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Words Do Hurt

I am not going to get into the whole right versus wrong part of the discussion here. Clearly everyone understands that what Will Smith did was wrong. What I do want to say is..I get it. I get why Will Smith reacted the way he did. As someone who has had many a verbal insult flung my way over the years because of my bilateral cleft lip and palate, I completely understand the impulse to lash out, even physically, when you’ve had as much as you can take.

For those that have had the experience of being bullied, you know that kind of pain cuts deep. And I don’t care who says otherwise, words do hurt. I can still remember the exact situation and cruel words said to me by a bully I had when I was in middle school. So, I don’t buy the whole “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” mantra. Words can cut deep, hit hard, and linger in our minds for years.

Being A Bully Is Not Comedy

Making fun of someone’s appearance is not comedy. It’s petty, uninteresting, and shows the true nature of the person making the insult. That’s why when Chris Rock made his “joke”, I rolled my eyes just like Jada Pinkett Smith did. If nothing further happened, Chris Rock would have been made to look petty and uninteresting through his own words. However, by Will Smith reacting the way he did, he gave away his power the moment he struck Chris Rock.

Now, instead of talking about how out of line Chris Rock was by making fun of someone’s appearance -and let me just clear up the idea that just because he may have not known Jada has alopecia somehow how makes his “joke” ok..it does not. Whether or not he knew does not excuse his crassness and pettiness for using someone’s appearance as a punchline – we are now talking about how out of line Will Smith was for his reaction because it was “just a joke”.  The power has shifted from the victim back to the bully.

Lessons To Be Learned

As I think about how all of this played out on Sunday, I realize that it is the perfect teaching opportunity for ourselves and our children. The lesson: We must learn how to pick our battles. Does Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith really care what Chris Rock thinks of them? I’m guessing not. We must consider the messenger when it comes to how we react to hurtful words or rude comments.

Now, of course, as soon we start school and become part of social groups, we care A LOT about what others think. It’s part of the growing up experience – learning how and where we want to fit in. Did I care what my bully thought of me when she hurled those hurtful words my way all those years ago in middle school? Yeah, most likely because they stayed with me for a very long time. Do I care now? Of course not.  We must ask ourselves – do I really care what this person thinks of me? If the answer is no, then that person’s opinion on anything we do will have zero impact. They are not worth the time or energy it would take to respond.

Not Every Bully Is Worth Your Time

I’ve learned that not every bully deserves my response when it comes to reacting to a rude or hurtful comment. I have learned how to pick my battles. And now, as a parent myself, I am teaching my daughter to do the same. I encourage you to have conversations with your children about how they view the people who have said mean things. When it comes down to it, do they really care about what that person thinks of them? Use this particular incident with Will Smith and Chris Rock as your jumping off point. There are complicated feelings and emotions locked up inside this singular incident that can spark wonderful and helpful conversations. By using this as a learning opportunity, you and your children can strengthen the skill of learning to pick the battles that truly deserve their time and energy.