Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sticks and Stones

I recently received an email from a fellow Levackian (or whatever term one might use to denote those fine folks who grew up in the town of Levack, Ontario). He kindly offered a bit of background on a slang term that I used in a posting on my blog, which basically made fun of a family name, and suggested that I remove the hurtful reference.

The writer in me, the one that insists on creativity and honestly above all else, was immediately on guard over the idea of censorship. I was, after, all merely being honest about myself and the kids and teens in the town I grew up in. We weren't perfect, and among our faults was the fact that we made fun of people when we shouldn't have. I thought that my using this term was merely documenting a piece of my own history, and to remove that would be to deny a part of reality.

But, what about the family whose name I used in this derogatory fashion? The thought of it troubled me. Was the honesty worth potentially causing hurt to others?

I immediately sent a note off to a buddy of mine, who was familiar with use of that term and whom I've been fortunate enough to count among my closest friends for most of my life, my good buddy, Steve Gaydos. Steve is one of the few people besides my wife to have intimate knowledge of the full good, bad and ugly of my psyche; like Francine, I take his concerns and suggestions very seriously. As usual, Steve offered some introspective and though-provoking things to consider. And, as usual, he made me reflect, but also made me laugh almost in the same breath. God, you've gotta love friends with that kind of power.

Steve reminded me of a pivotal moment of my youth. One day, while hanging out with my younger cousin, we encountered a kid a couple of years older than us who was a bit over-weight. We proceeded to call him some sort of names and jumped on our bikes, excited about the chase. (Again, this isn't something I'm proud of - but I'd be lying if I claimed I never engaged in teasing other kids in this "push and pull" manner - the goal seemed to be to tease something and then run like hell so as not to get beat-up). This guy caught me, and instead of riddling me with the punches I expected and deserved, he pulled me aside and asked me why I felt it necessary to call him names and hurt his feelings. Instead of playing the expected game of name-calling, chase and beating, he reasoned with me, tried to get me to see it from his perspective. He couldn't have been more than ten or eleven years old at the time, but his words and actions had a meaningful impact on me, even after all these years - and of course, Steve knows that. This overweight kid and I both eventually grew up (he, of course, long before I did), and he became a very charismatic man and someone whom, though I haven't seen him in at least a decade, I still respect, wherever he is.

I stopped dithering. I modified my original post to remove the negative family name reference. For those who know the name that I used, I can't take that away; for those who didn't read it before I modified it, the post doesn't look like it's missing anything, and still reads perfectly fine with the original intent, so the writer in me can be satisfied. And for those whose family name I'd used in this way, my humblest apologies. The intent was not to insult, nor be hurtful.

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