I first heard Mark Wills’ song “Don’t Laugh At Me” at camp, almost ten years ago. It’s a lovely song — the music itself tugs at my heartstrings a little, and the lyrics send a powerful message. It’s not perfect, and I’m a bit uncomfortable with the implication that it is because god views us as equals that bullying isn’t acceptable, but I do like that it seems honest and real.
“Don’t laugh at me / Don’t call me names / Don’t get your pleasure from my pain” — It doesn’t try to pretend that we should all live together as one big happy family; all the song asks for is for people to be acknowledged and be recognized as fellow humans, for people not to be torn down in order to make others feel better about themselves. Is that so much to ask?
It’s sort of ironic, actually. Despite the beautiful song, the anti-bullying message didn’t exactly translate into real life. Teens can be so petty, and camp wasn’t an exception. Don’t get me wrong — I loved that camp, and I still cherish my memories of the time I spent there. But it wasn’t perfect, and I think I spent a lot of energy trying to navigate the social scene properly. There certainly were people who didn’t blend in as well, and, well, their failure to do so was noticed and not in a positive way.
It continues on — the judgments don’t magically stop once we leave high school. I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as anyone else of being judgmental: remarking on the shortness of someone’s skirt or the inanity of someone’s comment. However, I’m really, really trying to stop doing that. (Although to be honest, anything hateful is pretty much still fair game, as far as I’m concerned.)
Being petty and judgmental is just ugly. At the same time, there’s something almost seductive about it, in a sad way, because it creates a (false) sense of superiority. It can unite people on a shallow level, a brief sense of “us-versus-them.” But that’s all so fake. It’s not genuine at all. It’s not something of which to be proud. The people I most admire are also some of the least judgmental, least petty people I know.
The other thing is that, frankly, most of us aren’t in a position to judge others. There are plenty of famous sayings about that — the quote attributed to Jesus about who should throw the first stone, for example, and Mother Theresa’s comment that when we judge people, we have no time to love them. There’s truth to that. I certainly have as many faults as anyone else: focusing on others’ imperfections makes me a hypocrite and keeps me from working to improve my own. Furthermore, so many of the judgments we make are subjective. Who am I to hold others to my standard of style, taste, or humour?
I’m not trying to defend some kind of “no one can ever pass judgment on anything else” mentality; much of society and social institutions desperately needs to be critically analyzed, and people need to be made aware of that analysis. However, there’s a world of difference between saying “don’t make fun of people” and saying “don’t criticize anyone, even champions of problematic and oppressive institutions.”