Monday, November 17, 2014

It's easy to call names, isn't it?

This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to school-going kids, written for the "Guys and Girls" section of Ceylon Today.

So you want to stand out. You want to show everyone your colours. You want to make everyone believe just how “special” you are. What do you do? Do you fight? Do you shout? Do you tell everyone around you how good you are? Is that the way? It’s after all the easiest thing in the world to cry, to shout, to scream, when no one is listening to you. But if you want to show everyone that you can stand out, that you are “special”, that’s not going to work.

To begin with, your friends will test you. Wherever they are, whether in school or in the van. They will joke about you. They will poke fun at you. They will want to see whether you can stand them. If you’re smart, you won’t lose it. You won’t hit back. You will instead stay where you are, without losing your temper. It’s never good to fight back, after all. If you do, you lose half the battle.

There was once a boy called Niven. He called himself “Nee-ven”. I couldn’t pronounce his name properly. There was also an actor called David Niven. I had called him “Nai-ven”. So I told this boy how to “pronounce” his name. I called him “Nai-ven”. Now names are special. People guard them, almost jealously. That’s natural.

Niven thought his name was special. And I had given his friends the chance to test him. At class the next day, they all called him “Nai-ven”, and laughed. Friends are like that sometimes. They pick and choose. They use your name to joke about you. Niven was angry. Hurt. The problem wasn’t just that they were mispronouncing his name; the problem was that they were doing it purposely. In Sinhala, “nai” means “snakes”. They were twisting his name. In other words, they were insulting him.

He could have lost his cool. He had, to be honest, but only for a minute. They were bullying him. He could have fought back. But he didn’t. There was one friend of his who could be unkind with words. He was leading the others in jeering at Niven. Niven took one look at him and called him “ලබු ගෙඩිය”. He hadn’t planned to call him that. Then and there, he had looked at his enemy-of-the-moment, at the shape of his head, and had cut him down to pieces with one word. The joke was on him now: from that day onwards, those who had jeered at Niven went to call his enemy “ලබුවා”.

You can be smarter. Name calling is fun. It can be easy too. But it’s not always the answer. After some time, it can even be dangerous. You can hurt others. Badly. It’s true that at school you’ll have to put up with a lot of name calling. If you are or your name is made fun of, you can keep quiet. You can ignore. If they grow tired of saying the same joke over and over again, they too will keep quiet. They’ll go away and ignore you.

But if they keep on insulting you, you’ll have to speak up. Calling names is easy. Grownups do it all the time. It’s also difficult, especially if you’re unsure about what name to call those who jeer at you. You can pick on a person’s “shape”, his name, or even his size. But don’t hurt them. If you hurt those who hurt you, it shows poorly on you. It shows that you can be just as bad as they are.

So play it smart. Pick on a name. Any name. Tag it on your insulters. If you’re good enough, that’s one way you can make yourself stand from the rest of your friends. That will show just how “special” you are. That you can stand up without falling, and without giving any of your insulters a chance to pull you down, wherever you are.