When I was a kid, I used to believe if you swallowed a watermelon seed, a watermelon would grow inside your belly. While I now know that’s not true, I do know if you are fed certain seeds they will not only grow inside of you, they blossom outwards as well, like seeds of kindness, seeds of peace, seeds of hope. And then there’s the other gnarly, prickly, weedy kind: seeds of destruction, seeds of deception, and seeds of hate. But a seed remains a seed until it’s planted. A lump of clay is useless until it’s molded. A student is unknowing until he/she is taught.
A few months ago I read a news story about Cole Ledford, a young man who was punched in the face by a stranger because he’s gay. Cole retaliated in the best way possible. He didn’t put up his dukes, he put out a dignified response on Twitter instead.
He literally turned the other cheek, and by doing so garnered the respect and support of thousands on social media. Cole and his partner began educating others that different is not a threat. Different has rights and feelings. And different has a face, and you shouldn’t be punching it.
Hate crimes and discrimination don’t stop at sexual orientation, they cover the spectrum: race, religion, gender, size, and so on.
Thankfully, I’ve never been punched in the face because of my size, but I’ve been mooed at, called names, and made the butt of jokes by people I know, and strangers alike. I guess if you don’t look like you belong on the cover of a magazine, some people feel like they should point it out to you.
Unlike the colour of our skin, our nationality, or sexual orientation, size is something we can control – I think that’s why fat jokes are still prevalent today. They might be funny to some, but I don’t hear the punchline – I hear, “What’s wrong with you? Why would you choose this?”
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names penetrate my cellulite and get into my psyche. Last summer, I was out for stroll and happened to walk past four teens standing in a circle outside of a convenience store. As I approached, the young girl, who had a clear view of me, barked, “Look at that fat b*tch”. The boy with his back to me asked, “What fat b*tch?”, as he turned to see who she was talking about, and the moment we were face-to-face, he said, “Oh, this fat b*tch”.
I didn’t react, I just kept walking. It wasn’t so much what they said that bothered me, it was the fact they felt they could say it. They clearly weren’t taught, ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ I’d like to believe this was a case of pack mentality, and that they would never say that to my face if they were on their own.
The same thing happened the month before with a group of little girls (about 8 or 9 years old), who felt I should be serenaded to a rap song that ended with, “and your big fat butt” as I walked past them. So young. So sad. If someone learns hate and intolerance that young, it’s going to be difficult to unlearn. Difficult, but not impossible!
If hate is taught, let’s take it off the curriculum
We can educate children to accept and embrace the differences. I had one such opportunity about 20 years ago when I was a volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom. I was assigned to a little boy with special needs. One day, as we all lined up to get ready to go to an assembly, the boy stood patiently and hugged me around the waist, his head resting on my tummy. He announced to everyone, “There’s a baby in here!”
I wasn’t pregnant. The teacher and I shot a look at each other. I replied, “No honey, there’s no baby.”
The room went silent. My little guy looked at me perplexed. I could see the wheels turning… it was like he was doing long division in his head, and then he let out a groan and said, “You mean you’re fat?”
The teacher was about to bust a gut. I knew that strangling a child was frowned upon at school, so I chose my words carefully. “Yes honey, I’m fat.”
“Why?!” he demanded.
“God made me this way so there is more of me to love.”
He mulled over a few more equations and finally announced, “Oh, okay”, and he proceeded to hug me tighter.
It’s as simple as that folks. I may have uprooted a discriminatory weed that was taking hold in his impressionable little mind that day, and planted a seed of acceptance in its place.