Let My Soul Be Silent: Deflecting Insults With Contentment

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Even though I was easily a head taller than most of my classmates, my lanky frame, red bushy hair, and freckles made me the target of many bullies. One attempt at replying to my “carrot top” insult was to reply that “carrot tops are green, genius” — which didn’t so much help me win the day as it just made me seem that much more interested in carrots. (Thanks for the suggestion, Dad, but it backfired.) I was at a loss for a clever comeback. So, I did what any 11-year-old would do when facing down a schoolyard bully — I asked my mother for advice.

“Whenever someone calls you a name, just say, ‘so?’ They’ll soon leave you alone.”

What? Just say ‘so?’?” Mom, that’s middle school social suicide. I would be essentially agreeing with my oppressor!

But I was out of options. So, I gave it a whirl.

“Man, you look like if Ronald McDonald and Gumby had a baby.” “So?”
“Haha, you admit it, you freckle-faced freak?”
“You probably burst into flames from the refrigerator door light.”
“Yeah, heh. If I tried to play ‘connect the dots’ with your freckles, I’d need a truckload of pens.”
“Eh, uh, your hair looks like I could roast marshmallows over it.” “So?”
“Man, forget this. You’re not even worth it.”

And just like that, my willingness to endure this bully’s insults without letting them penetrate my, yes, extremely sensitive skin proved to be a strain greater than he could bear. Even more than his own disinterest in insulting the “uninsultable,” the idiocy and sad plight of his need to put others down became implanted in my 11-year-old psyche. For a brief moment, I started to pity this bully’s need for validation at the expense of losers like me.

I was reminded of these occurrences during my morning prayers. In the Amidah (Jewish standing prayer), there is a passage that follows my mother’s wisdom to a T.

“To those who curse me, let my soul be silent — let my soul be like dust to everyone.”

Insults can hurt, this is true. Words can damage. Still, when we take a step back from the situation and assume a third-party vantage point, we can begin to see that the true weakness lies with the offender. A sad emptiness exists within them. You may even notice them coveting your own contentment.

“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”


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