#doitfordolly has flooded my social media feeds the past week or two. I didn’t know Dolly. I don’t know her family. But people I care about do, and they are hurting. Hard.
Dolly took her own life last week. She was 14 years old, and the way some people spoke about her, hurt her so profoundly, she found death held more hope than continuing to live. There’s been a flood of calls to deal with bullying in the wake of her death. Which is, of course, the right thing to demand from our educators, from our communities, from one another.
As a writer, I know how much words matter. The right words here, or the wrong word there, can change the intention, the power and meaning of my writing. The words we speak are no different. They have the power to slice deep, wounding in ways we cannot see. When enough of those wounds land on a heart it can be shredded beyond repair.
There are some young women (and possibly young men) out there right now, whose words sliced through Dolly’s heart. They’ve been called bullies, which, by definition, is correct. But, would they recognise the bully in themselves? Will the people who love them recognise them as bullies? Or will they believe their words were only empty sounds, tipped out in an effort to make themselves feel superior? Perhaps they believe the old adage: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. But they can. They do. They did.
I’ve been thinking about this thing we call bullying a lot these past few days. I’ve thought about the way people comment on social media with cruel putdowns, ugly names and hateful words. About how we live in an era where all the opinion we see is carefully curated to be the same opinion as our own. We ‘follow’ people whose opinions, lifestyles, politics and experiences are the same as ours, and when we stumble upon an opposing view, many are quick to call it wrong, or stupid, without taking a moment to dig a little deeper – to try to understand – or at the very least accept that different views and opinions and experiences are all valid, all real. That those views belong to human beings just like us who have fascinating stories and history, and hearts as tender and vulnerable as our own.
I’ve thought about the times I have carelessly said words that weren’t a true reflection of what was in my heart, words that have stung – or perhaps worse. About how easy, tempting even, it is to jump to self righteous indignation when others are ‘wrong’ and we know we are ‘right’. But what is the cost? What damage are we causing others – whose stories we don’t begin to understand – to reassure ourselves we are ‘right’? How much richness and wonder do we miss out on, when we hold tight to our beliefs and leave no space to discover other points of view?
Perhaps as well as demanding that our law makers and educators do something about bullying, we can start with ourselves. Can we choose curiosity over judgement? Can we model open mindedness and acceptance to our kids and all the people watching and listening to us? Can we choose open hearted caring over gossip? Can we remember the power of our words, and choose them with care, with kindness? I’m going to start there, to #doitfordolly.