Teary 14-year-old Isis Brown tells her Facebook friends that she is being bullied at school because she shares a name with the Islamic State.
Dear Isis Brown:
Thanks for making your public call for help for you and others who are suffering because of their name. You should be proud of yourself for doing such an amazing job of bringing this problem to public awareness. Your Facebook video went viral, and countless newspapers and news stations have carried your story. The problem you raise is a very common one, and there are kids who suffer from it in practically every school. It affects not only kids named Isis. Anyone’s name can be made fun of. So I am hereby answering your call and providing kids like you with the help they need.
Many dreadful situations in life have the potential of being great opportunities. It just depends upon how one sees it and makes use of it. As you will see, your situation is precisely one of those.
The pain of having our names made fun of
It is natural to get get upset when people make fun of our names. We identify with our name, and we want it to be treated with respect. When people make fun of it, we feel they are making fun of our very essence.
Additionally, kids have been learning since kindergarten that no one is allowed to disrespect us and that we shouldn’t tolerate it when they do, because disrespect is bullying. So when people do disrespect us, we feel we have every right to get upset, and we think of them as bullies–evil people who enjoy causing people pain.
All of society has become aware of the evils of bullying, an issue of a major concern for about seventeen years. Isis, that’s why so many journalists have treated your situation as something so important that everyone in the world needs to know about it. Chances are you don’t realize this because you are only 14, but society’s efforts to protect children from bullying haven’t been working, which is why it is still happening to children like you even though there are anti-bullying laws that require schools to make bullying stop, and all the students in your school have been taught for years that bullying is wrong.
Getting the right information
First, I need to explain some things that maybe no one else has told you. These ideas aren’t new. But you are not likely to learn them in school.
1. It is pretty much impossible to stop anyone from making fun of your name once. But if you find that the same kids do it to you over and over again, that’s a different story.
What’s going on is that you believe they’re doing it because they think there’s something wrong with your name. The truth is, the real reason they keep on making fun of your name is because you get upset when they make fun of your name. Your name doesn’t bother them. However, when you get upset, they have defeated you and made you look a loser. Every living creature is programmed to enjoy winning, which is why winning feels good and losing feels lousy, so they are likely to continue doing what upsets you. But if youdon’t get upset, they become the losers and feel foolish. It is very hard to continue making fun of someone who is not getting upset.
2. You don’t want kids to notice that your name sounds the same as the name of the world’s most famous terror group. But it is impossible for them not to notice. Think about it: If your class got a new student with the name Donald Trump–and I guarantee you there are kids named Donald Trump–wouldn’t you think, “Hey, aren’t you that rich guy running for president?” And might you not even want to say it to him? Well, it’s the same thing with Isis. They hear the name on the news all the time, and it makes them think of you. There is nothing evil or abnormal about it.
3. When kids call you a terrorist or ask you, “Why are you killing so many Americans?” they don’t believe those things. Of course they know you are not a terrorist. If there is a boy in your class named Donald Trump, do you think he is the guy running for president? Of course not! If you asked him if he is, and he got annoyed and started explaining to you that he isn’t, wouldn’t you think he was being foolish?
4. When kids make fun of your name, it’s not because they hate you. All they’re doing is trying to make a joke. They are trying to make people laugh, including you.
No one ever explained this to you, but humor is not positive. It’s negative. Saying nice things about people isn’t going to make anyone laugh, unless those things are obviously not true, like calling a tall person “Shorty.”
Pay attention to comedy shows that you like. You will notice it is only funny when people are made to look bad. If someone said to you, “Isis, you have a really pretty and special name,” would that make anyone laugh? No. But asking you about your terrorist activities would make some people laugh, especially kids in your age range, because that’s the kind of thing teenagers find funny.
If you were to tell the kid in your class named Donald Trump, “Donald, it’s nice to meet you,” no one is going to laugh. But if you said, “My dad wants to vote for you, but my mom thinks you’re a dork,” that will make people laugh. My nickname is Izzy. When I was in elementary school, kids would call me “Dizzy Izzy” or “Izzy Fizzy.” It wasn’t mean. To us it was funny.
If you want to learn more about the nature of humor, Google “Celebrity Roasts.” Roasts are shows in which a famous celebrity is put in a “hot seat” (where he gets “roasted”). Then the celebrity’s friends and relatives take turns going up to the microphone to make fun of the celebrity. They say the most horrible things possible about the celebrity–and they say true nasty things, for the whole world to see–and everyone, including the celebrity, laughs.
5. If you get angry with kids who make fun of your name, they will not like you, even if they liked you before. They’ll think you take yourself too seriously, don’t have a sense of humor, and are mean-spirited. And then they’ll want to do it even more to get back at you, or for the simple fun of defeating you and making you look like a loser.
6. If you tell the school authorities on them, not only will they stop liking you, they will despise you. One of the meanest things you can do to people is to try to get them in trouble. They will feel like you are the bad guy and they are your victims, and they will want revenge. They will say worse things to you, talk badly about you behind your back, call you a snitch, and try to turn your friends against you. They will try to make you so miserable that you will want to leave your school.
So what should you do?
It’s quite simple. You might learn this approach in the field that being called “Positive Psychology.”
This advice is especially relevant to you in particular, Isis, because you mention that you are named after the goddess of love. I will teach you to act accordingly–how to love the people who make fun of you–and as a result they will love you back!
1. Stop telling yourself, “Oh no, kids are making fun of my name again! It’s terrible! I wish they would stop it already!” It’s the wrong way to think. Instead, tell yourself, “Kids can make fun of me all they want. It is their right to do so, and if it makes them happy, it makes me happy, too!” Then you won’t get upset when it happens, and you will look like a winner rather than a loser. People will respect you and like you more.
2. You have become the most famous kid in your school because of your name. In fact, people all over the country know about you, and probably in other countries as well.
Many people sympathize with you and want other kids to stop tormenting you. Some might even admire your courage for making your problem public on FaceBook. But deep down they feel sorry for you. They see you as someone who suffers and doesn’t know how to handle difficulty. That is not the kind of fame you want.
The good news is, the fact that kids associate you with a terrorist group is not necessarily bad. You can turn it to your advantage and get yourself the kind of fame that truly feels good–being admired by everyone around you.
My first name is Israel. I have a very good friend, a psychologist named Dr Steven Sussman. When we are with a group of people, he gets a kick out of saying, “I have a friend who is so important that they named a whole country after him!” You can do something similar. When kids call you a terrorist, you can say, “Isn’t it amazing! I am so powerful that the worlds’ most dangerous terrorist organization named itself after me!”
If someone asks you, “Why are you killing so many Americans?” you can answer, “That’s how I treat my friends! And you are next on my list!” But you have to say that with a smile and a wink or they might think you are a psycho and report you to the police, and then you’ll be in big trouble.
When they call you a terrorist, you can say, “Yes, I’m really scary, aren’t I” or “Aren’t you glad you’re on my good side?” When they say they saw you on TV, you can say, “Yes, the news just can’t stop talking about me! Isn’t that amazing!” or “Who would have believed it–Li’l ole me on prime time TV!”
Get used to answering like this and kids will think you are really cool. You will rightfully deserve to become the most popular kid in your school, and you will be able to thank your name for it!
A simpler approach
Just in case this approach doesn’t interest you, but you just want kids to stop making fun of you, the solution is simple. All you need to do is stop responding when anyone makes a negative remark about your name, as though you didn’t even hear them. Answer people only when they treat you respectfully, and before long they will stop trying to make fun of you because it’s no fun.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems. This article has been reproduced with permission from his blog.