Listening to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak about the choice of whether to look at the negative or find the positive during life's challenging moments, I thought of the persistent news about young people killing themselves and others over words and stress.
The newest Supreme Court justice, in an informal chat at Southern Connecticut State University on Monday night, was not referring to suicides among young people but her life experiences from her memoir, "Our Beloved World."
She did not take questions from the audience. At least not unscripted ones. I wish she had. I would have asked for her take on the word "stress" and the toughness of today's youth.
It takes a certain degree of toughness to achieve anything in life. But increasingly, I keep hearing about the "S" word.
Stress is the mantra of students from grade school to college.
College students talk about the stress of homework, making ends meet, working two jobs while attending classes. High school, middle school and elementary school students talk about the stress of not fitting in, or being teased, called names or otherwise bullied.
Frankly, if I hear more students talk about stress, I promise I will — not stress out.
This is not to disregard life's difficult moments. But sorry, everybody's got stress.
Besides the word is overused. It's relative.
Stress is when you are in war and being shot at. Stress is running into a burning building to save lives. Stress is when you don't know where you'll be sleeping night to night. Stress is not having enough to eat.
Even in these and more stressful situations, the proper word for "stress" should be "challenge" — and these challenges should be something to live for to meet and not die at one's own hands over in defeat.
Yet the news is filled with stories of young kids killing themselves — and others — because someone called them names, taunted them, teased them. A law enforcement officer in Florida, speaking about the recent suicide of a young girl after her classmates bullied her on the Internet, called for parents to know what their children are doing. There is also the call for the arrest of children who bully other children into killing themselves. I think that is all well and good.
Bullying should be addressed — as it is by the anti-bullying movement. But addressing the bullies alone is a flawed, one-sided approach.
Despite all the training, education, talks and celebrity public service announcements against bullying — there will always be the "strong" who will terrorize the "weak." There will always be bullies.
The other side of the equation needs to be addressed — the person being bullied, or to put it bluntly, the mental and emotional toughness of today's youth.
Yes words can hurt as well a sticks and stones, but something is wrong when kids opt out of this world because the words someone else says about them are too much to take.
In the face of bullying, there needs to be something similar to what the civil rights groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee did in the 1960s to prepare marchers for angry, verbally abusive, violent race mobs. It was nonviolence training.
For bullying or of life in general, schools might consider toughness training. That is, how to respond to the bullies when they bully. Have other kids actually call them names and post things on the simulated websites and show them how to respond under unpleasant conditions.
Life is not always good. But it can be. As the Supreme Court justice said: "Find ways to make yourself happy. No one else can do that for you."
Indeed, we can look at the negative or find the positive. It comes down to what's inside each of us. Whether it is bullying, "stress" or any of life's other challenges, the response should be to rise above, limbo under, dance around or smash right through it to get to where you need to be.
Maybe Justice Sotomayor would agree.