A weekend or two ago, I was flipping through channels on TV looking for something my wife and I could watch while enjoying the take out we had just picked up (love oriental stir-fry). As I bounced around from station to station, I eventually landed on VH1.
Noticing that Taylor Swift was on, talking candidly with her audience, I hesitated to flip channels. I was intrigued by her demeanor and wanted to see what the discussion was about, and what songs she might sing as she was holding a guitar - a red one.
I was truly surprised how at ease Ms. Swift was with the conversation, just speaking to the audience as if they were family. Swift showed no apprehension relaying this story about a troubling event in her life and how that difficulty inspired a current song she had written and released. (Actually, much of the conversation centered on how many of her songs come from life experiences she has had.)
In this particular story, she detailed how a critic had made some comments about her that she seemed to take personal; at least that is how I interpreted her perspective. She continued…viewing what this critic did, his remarks, as “bullying;” something that tends to be a common theme for a good number of people, from young ages on…even, sometimes, into adulthood.
In this situation, Taylor truly felt “picked on,” stating that this critic just didn’t like her. She went on to tie this particular circumstance to the meaning behind her song “Mean.” A song that has become somewhat of an anthem for the bullied of the world.
And you know something…I like that, this idea that Taylor Swift would bring attention to an issue that is common in kids’ lives…peoples’ lives. And you know something else…I like Taylor Swift, her demeanor, her innocence, and most importantly, what she seems to stand for; they all rate high from my perspective.
Now I don’t follow the tabloids much, not about her or any celebrity for that matter, but I have had the opportunity to hear Swift speak on some TV talk shows (like 60 Minutes). Interviews where she discusses how important it is for her (and celebrities in general) to be a positive role model for others—our youth. That’s different, right? Certainly uncharacteristic of many of her counterparts.
In a nutshell, I was, and have been, thoroughly impressed by her attitude, her persona. She seems to be someone others should aspire to be like—a positive example.
Getting back to her song Mean, and the reason behind it, there are a good number in this world who have been (for one reason or another) on the hurtful end of bullying. Swift’s feelings are not unique to this, nor are they uncommon, thus, how relatable her song is to so many.
However, as much as we might prefer this picking on others didn’t happen, that it would just go away, it is how the bullied react, or how they internally use their circumstance that CAN make all the difference for them. A perspective…of sorts…that can actually help determine a more positive direction their life might travel.
Sure, it would be best if “bullying” just didn’t exist. Most (if they are honest with themselves) know how wrong it is to belittle or demean others in order to try and put themselves above another, or for whatever suits a bully’s fancy. But the reality is that it’s unlikely to ever completely go away, no matter what one does. As one bully grows up, changes, or moves on, another always seems to take their place.
With that being said…it is probably best that we discover a better way for the bullied, a different perspective if I might. And that is where my story begins, for I too have been on the short end (as you will see, no pun intended) of the abuse and emotional discomfort Ms. Swift’s song references.
That might seem a little strange coming from someone who is a recently-published author and has had success as an athlete, but there is no mistaking that it was an integral part of my life. Simply put…it is a piece of my background that helped make me who I am.
In fact, some might argue that the opportunities and achievements I was fortunate enough to experience might never have occurred if the “bullying” piece was completely removed from my life. To me, looking back, it was all in the perspective I took.
Now I won’t bore you with ALL the details…that would get tedious. However, it is important to set the tone for our discussion with some pieces of the bullying puzzle for without any, what I would say becomes vague innuendo—ambiguous. You see, I grew up being one of the smallest kids around. You certainly would say I was small, entering high school at a mere 4’ 8” tall and a whopping 78 lbs.
Yep, you read that right (4’8”/78lbs), looked much more like a 6th or 7th grader than a freshman in high school. It was definitely something the neighborhood kids, and some classmates, made painfully clear early on (especially before high school). My freshman year, in a class of about 900, I was the second smallest kid in school.
And in my day (and in my high school, one where football was king) the size of a person meant a lot—it meant EVERYTHING. Needless to say, this brought the worst out of some as negatively prejudging one’s abilities based on their height and size was a common occurrence back then, probably still is (especially in gym class).
From a younger age, where name calling was the norm, to being picked last on a team in gym as a young high schooler, I pretty much experienced the gamut of demeaning comments and behavior the small in stature usually endure.
Now I can’t exactly recall when it happened, or even why it happened for that matter, but at some point (in junior high) I made a conscious decision to NOT ALLOW others to determine who I was, how I felt about myself, and most importantly, what I was capable of achieving.
And you know what…that one thing, that shift in my perspective changed everything. As each year passed, especially in high school, I grew more mentally strong, more mentally tough, and much more accepting of who I really was and who I wanted to be.
Once I had come to the conclusion that my feelings about “me” were 100% governed by me, that it was my choice how I felt, then everything else started to fall into place. It was as if nothing anyone said could hurt me, or what they said didn’t matter…it had absolutely no weight at all in my mind.
Well, not exactly no weight as I actually used what others said to fuel a burning desire to become much better at whatever it was I set my mind to. In fact, the more that was said (especially with sports), and the more impossible the task, the hotter my desire burned to prove that only I controlled my destiny—no one else.
It helped make me uniquely independent, this burning inside, as it created the opportunity to better control choices I made as I was less influenced by the “group,” you know…peer pressure. It was an ingredient that I used as an athlete to my advantage.
Where “trash talking” upset the balance for some (maybe many), as it worked to dislodge their focus, for me…it narrowed my focus, made it easier for me to do the little things others were not willing to do. It moved me into a deeper type of thought process that left no stone unturned when it came to doing whatever needed to be done to accomplish any goal that was set.
Bringing this back full circle, the inference or meaning behind Taylor Swift’s song Mean is that the bullied will become something more, that they will achieve more…while the bully ends up a big nothing, a speck, a zero, bitter with the world they have created for themselves, still lashing out at something (the bullied) they can’t understand, let alone touch.
It is this meaning, this promise for something better, that has brought those who have been treated with disrespect some solace. A promise that can be realized when one takes a different, more unique perspective, as described earlier.
Now I don’t want anyone to get the impression that taking on this new outlook excuses a bully’s behavior, not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I would encourage those experiencing such to talk with parents, teachers, counselors, or to whoever might appropriately hold the bully accountable for their behavior. That is as it should be.
What I am trying to do here is add a new piece to the puzzle, something that gives the bullied an additional deterrent to the circumstance(s) they face, a quality which provides an intrinsic sense of control, empowering them.
Doing so makes one stronger on the inside, it gives one a steely sense of determination, an unbreakable, unbendable type of inner will. One that can lead to creating a better destiny for oneself…again, something the bully will never understand, let alone be able to touch.
You see, it really is ALL in the perspective one takes.
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