By MICHAEL ARMIJO
I remember getting hit when I was growing up. And when I shared this with other friends of mine, I found out that a lot of the other kids felt the same way. It seemed as thought it was kind of the late 60’s and early 70’s parental thing. Fortunately, the physical scars always healed. When you were hit, it ended right there. It was over, the beating stopped, and the pain soon went away. The only fear you had was ‘next time,’ so you did your best to stay out of the way. But something else happened that was far worse than being hit, stronger and more painful that a cracked rib or a black eye. Something that stays with a person, sometimes forever.
I remember one of my biggest problems in life had been that I never really felt equal. Equality to peers and friends at an early age is a big issue, and an important one. Competition is good when you have confidence, when you felt you had a chance to win. But I had always felt I wasn’t smart enough, although I received good grades. I felt I wasn’t good enough, although I always improved. When I had that first sense of “I can’t do it,” I just gave up and quit. I just walked away and said “forget it.” I felt that I was never going to win anyway, so why keep on trying? And now I know why I quit. I just felt unequal, I just felt different than everyone else.
I can’t say when or where it exactly began, probably because I didn’t realize what happened until later in life. But I believe that I felt so different because of what I was told. What was verbally given to me. I wasn’t told how special I was, or how great I was. I was never told “good job” or “I’m proud of you.” I was constantly reminded of how stupid I was. I was always told that I was a dummy. That I was worthless, I was an idiot, or how I wouldn’t amount to anything.
I guess the leaders in my life at that time didn’t realize the power of words. That the power of what you say has an impact on children. When you constantly feed something to someone, regardless if it’s true or not, it someday becomes the truth in a child’s mind. And children can subconsciously hold onto this perception of themselves for years. Constantly replaying those little tapes of how worthless they are and how they just aren’t like the rest of the kids. Children trust adults with their hearts. Adults need to understand that when you’ve had a bad day at the office or if you’re angry with yourself or with your own life, demoralizing a child doesn’t make your position any better. Each day I would struggle to be “normal,” all because of the carelessness within the leadership of my life.
As I look back, I remember I used to blame myself. I now know that what I had been told as a child wasn’t my fault. I know that those harsh words weren’t at all true. Unfortunately, I know that now. I lost so many years, both in my youth and in my adult life, because I believed those people. I believed them. There were times when I wanted to go back to my childhood and reclaim my innocence, my right to a decent and structural life, and I was told that I never could. But I did what I felt was the next best thing. I closed my eyes and walked those long, horrifying steps within my mind and told every one of those people that they were wrong. I mentally went back and told them THEY were the stupid ones for daring to damage a little kid, for attempting to take great memories and fun times away from a small defenseless little boy. A boy who had dreams and aspirations to just have fun and live like the humans. And then I did something else, I became successful. Not rich and famous, but productive and worthy. I help people, I encourage others. I made a difference. I spread my gospel that life really does contain happy endings and wish-like scenarios. I let people know that they deserve a good life, and a loving family. My mission was clear that the world needed to know the real truth behind people’s dysfunctions. I assured the damaged at heart that what had happened to them wasn’t their fault. I used all that energy that negativity gave to me and I used it to fuel my passion to make a difference. I give people a chance; I encourage them to just go do it. The only limits there are in life are the limits you place upon yourself. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll preach it a thousand more.
With this philosophy, I’ve realized that consistent negativity can impact a life, so I’ve done the same, but with positive input. When I think of my daughter and how bright and intelligent she is, and then I look at my son and realize how creative and articulate he is, I wonder: are these kids really that bright because of their intelligence and education, or are they that smart because we told them they are? An encouraged child’s drive and ambition are faster than a speeding bullet (and more powerful than a locomotive).
So I have to preach: Be careful what you say to a child. Think about what they’ve seen and heard. They’ve been on this planet for a short time; they don’t know what you know. They haven’t been through the aggravation and the turmoil you’ve experienced. They haven’t seen the traffic on the 60 freeway or stood in line at the DMV. They haven’t dropped to the ground in exhaustion or felt the pressure of financial strain. And when they hear of these things, they think you can handle it all. They may not say it, but they look up to you, they respect you, and they believe you. Encourage them and be patient. Don’t let your own frustrations take years from their lives.
Yes, I remember getting hit as a child. And I remember the feeling that came with it. But with these experiences I’ve also been able to learn: you can get more from a person by raising their spirits, than you can by lowering their dignity.