Go back to high school for a second.
Think of that kid, the one who tried so desperately to be cool. We’ll just call him John for this example.
So think of John. He probably annoyed you a little; lame people always kind of annoy us for some reason. Now think of him getting tired of not being noticed. He’s just tired of not being cool, so he goes to the store and he buys these shoes that everyone is wearing. Maybe his mom even stretched a little out of her financial comfort zone to buy these shoes for him, because she sees how much they mean to him.
Then he can’t wait to go to school Monday, he can’t wait to wear his new shoes, the ones that everyone is wearing, all the cool kids. He puts them on in confidence, and he goes to school, and he’s so proud, he’s finally so proud of himself, proud to be himself.
Then he get’s to school and in his very first class, one of the cooler kids, we’ll call her Brittany, makes a snarky remark so that everyone knows that John’s shoes are off brand, or lame, or just flat not cool.
Suddenly John is ashamed. His pride, his excitement, his security is turned to shame. He no longer wants these shoes on his feet. He would give anything to be wearing anything else in that moment. And it’s all because of Brittany’s snide remark about something that ought to be completely irrelevant to her.
There should be a word for that. I think we’ve all seen it before. Maybe we’ve done it before, or maybe we’ve even been the John. I don’t really understand it.
In my high school literature class we read a short story called Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield– you can find it in this link- http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/MissBril.shtm -if you’re interested in reading it. This blog will have spoilers.
In this story, the protagonist, Miss Brill, lived a relatively pathetic life. It never directly says that, but it is easy to discern. The story doesn’t tell you much about her week, but it really focuses on her weekend. This is when she pulls her old fur out of the box and wraps herself in it, and primps herself up to go to the theater.
As you read you realize that the theater means the world to her. It’s the highlight of her entire week. You can also tell that she has the slightest hope that she means just as much to the theater.
On this particular day she is just sitting there enjoying herself as any other weekend, when she catches part of a conversation of two young lovers near her.
They hated her. They make it clear. They hated her for merely existing in the same world as them. They hated her though they had no reason to. Then they start making fun of her and the readers’ hearts begin to break:
“Why does she come here at all – who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”
They went on to make fun of her fur, which is something she found so much pride in at the beginning of the story. Suddenly Miss Brill felt unwanted at one of the few places in life she had ever felt welcome.
This is how the story ends:
“On her way home she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker’s. It was her Sunday treat. Sometimes there was an almond in her slice, sometimes not. It made a great difference. If there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present – a surprise – something that might very well not have been there. She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the match for the kettle in quite a dashing way.
But to-day she passed the baker’s by, climbed the stairs, went into the little dark room – her room like a cupboard – and sat down on the red eiderdown. She sat there for a long time. The box that the fur came out of was on the bed. She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.”
They broke her.
Just like Brittany broke John.
People can hurt people, and words can destroy.
I made up my own name for the feeling. I call it being “brilled” after this heartbreaking story.
Like I said, I don’t understand what causes people to do this. I don’t know why you would ever feel a need to evoke this feeling in someone. I like to believe people don’t do it on purpose. I like to think the better of people. I like to think that it happens without intention, but still that there is prevention.
Either way, in order to be lovely, we can’t make others feel unlovely. We can’t make people feel ashamed for being human.
“What’s it to ya,” is a saying that I never really heard until I moved to the north, but honestly I think it’s a good reality check before we make any questionable remark.
So his shirt isn’t a brand you would choose.
What’s it to ya?
So she dyed her hair a weird color.
What’s it to ya?
So she wears white after Labor Day
WHAT’S IT TO YA?
Word’s are a weapon, and when you choose to use them to shame people, to kill what gives them a sense of pride in themselves. You kill the part of them that you cause them to hate. You become a form of a murderer.
So RIP Miss Brill.
RIP to any others who were killed by words.
RIP to all of the self-esteems undeservedly consumed by shame.
RIP to the $50 shoes that’ll never be put back on John’s feet.
RIP to the fur necklet that’ll never leave the box again.
RIP to the beautiful souls who were warped, changed, and corrupted by shame evoked by one’s cruel words.
RIP Miss Brill. You will always be lovely to me.