Dear Sean

Her letter came via snail mail. She’s 16. Her beautiful handwriting makes my own penmanship look like chicken fertilizer.

She’s an exceptional kid. Wants to be a graphic designer one day. Loves horses. Favorite book is “Huckleberry Finn.” Her favorite author is Mark Twain.

We’ll call her Becky.

“Dear Sean,” Becky’s letter began, “why are people so mean on social media…?”

It all started this summer. Becky posted pictures online. They were images her mom took while she was at the lake with friends.

Four teenage girls with arms draped around each other. Smiling. They wore modest bathing suits. They were eating ice cream. Normal kids. Just having fun.

The images received fistfuls of hateful comments from some of Becky’s classmates online. It really hurt.

“We’re not the tiniest girls in school,” she wrote. “I’m overweight and I’m not super pretty, but people were so mean that I literally wanted to die.”

There were over 73 ugly comments on Becky’s post. It started with kids she knew, then the remarks were coming from people she’d never met.

She finally took the photos down.

“Help me deal with haters,” Becky wrote. “I feel so bad about myself.”

I can relate to what you’re feeling, Becky. I was a child who never seemed to fit the mold. I had a wider waistline than most of my peers. My childhood doctor actually told me, point-blank, that I was overweight.

The exact word he used was the F word.

He laughed endearingly as he pinched my pink tummy and said, “Good heavens, this boy is FAT.”

He told me to be more active, to take better care of myself, to eat better, to consume less sugar, and then he lit another unfiltered Camel and offered the nurse one.

So I disliked myself, growing up. Which made me a prime target for bullies. To make matters worse, I wore godawful jeans my mom purchased from Sears which had an atrocious label affixed to the backside. The label read: “Husky.” These jeans are the reason many men my age are in therapy.

Also, I have crooked teeth. I am not handsome. And my hair was curly and red so that I looked like the lovechild between Gilda Radner and Danny Partridge.

I could go on, but I don’t think I will.

Moreover, I understand hateful commentary because I’m a writer. Writers have to put themselves out there. We will spend days working on a story before releasing it to the world, only to receive replies from fans via email which say, “You suck, toilet face.”

What we’re talking about here, Becky, is called heckling. And it’s on the rise in the U.S. Heckling has become more American than the McRib.

One study found that meanspirited comments have risen by 64 percent within the last three years on social media.

And if that doesn’t worry you, try this one on for size: About 40 percent of adult Americans admit they have experienced some form of online bullying.

The problem is, Becky, hecklers are here to stay. They aren’t going anywhere. We can’t get rid of them. We can’t ship them off to a desert island without food, beer, or toilet paper.

But maybe we can change how we deal with them.

The first question, of course, is why do they heckle? To answer this, I called a friend who is a behavioral psychologist. She had this to say:

“A bully is all about control. When a person trolls you, or leaves a bad comment online, they’re doing it because they feel overlooked, because they have self-worth problems.

“They want control. Even just a little. It’s that simple. So they set out to control you.”

The more pressing question, however, is how do you deal with such unsavory online folks who hide behind screen names?

To answer this particular question, Becky, I called my cousin Corndog.

Corndog is our family philosopher. He is an English major, which means he still lives with his mama.

He has worked in beer joints all over the greater southeast since he was old enough to start shaving.

During his time behind the bar, he has dealt with some very unreasonable customers, mostly patrons fueled by longneck Budweiser and bucketloads of testosterone. And yet, he is a gentle man who does not believe in fighting.

I asked him how to deal with bullies.

“The only way to deal with a fool is not to,” he told me. “Otherwise, an idiot will just drag you down to their level and kick your butt with experience.”

This advice sounded vaguely familiar to my ears. So I asked Corndog if this was a quote he’d made it up, or one he had filched.

“That proverb was written by Saint Mark,” he said.

“In the Bible?”

He shook his head. “Your friend will know which Mark I’m talking about.”

40 comments

  1. Raya - October 23, 2022 6:38 am

    I heard once that it takes 5 good comments to make up for one negative one. So here goes.
    We all know you’re beautiful Becky and you make this world a better place.

    Reply
  2. Steve Winfield (lifer) - October 23, 2022 6:57 am

    Mark Train.
    Wasn’t he the one that loved dogs more than people?
    Answers appreciated.

    Reply
    • Debbie - October 23, 2022 7:06 am

      Steve….” Mark Twain said, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”

      Reply
  3. Debbie - October 23, 2022 7:01 am

    #2….Becky, your spirit is both gentle and strong.
    You are spectacular!

    Reply
  4. Tim - October 23, 2022 9:07 am

    Mark Twain
    AKA Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
    Twain (two) Fathoms.

    It’s hard to “phathom” why some people behave like they do.
    The depths of their soul (their essence) must be two shallow to pass through safely.

    Mark Twain
    Mark the distance “Be-Twain”
    The surface and the riverbed.
    Two fathoms is safe for passage.
    Let the bottom dwellers, dwell where they belong (& long for meaning).

    surface individuals have limited depth
    Survivors (those individuals like you) are often plenty deep.
    Dig deep Becky and just think,
    “Hey Hecklers, Go to Heck!!! & stay (the heck) away the space between my ears”
    They are not worthy of wasted tears.
    but you are worthy, because even at only 16 years, I can see that you have plenty of depth.

    Reply
    • Virginia Russell - October 23, 2022 10:24 am

      🎉🎉🎉

      Reply
  5. Delois Gates - October 23, 2022 9:27 am

    You make some great points here. But. You also “heckle” pediatricians, Gilda Radner, Danny Partridge, your fans, and English majors. Take a look at yourself?

    Reply
    • David - October 23, 2022 3:25 pm

      Delois, CONTEXT makes a difference. I assume you understand that by your use of quotation marks around the word. Not sure self-deprecating humor can be considered heckling since the latter is unwanted and the former is intentional.

      Reply
  6. DJacksonSC - October 23, 2022 10:10 am

    The humiliation of Husky jeans is still fresh, decades later … my advice for Becky is to ignore the hecklers (as much as that’s possible) while NOT ignoring her health/wellness.

    Today’s “body positive” message would have done wonders for my agonized teenage self. That said, positive psychology needs to be balanced by physical reality.

    Should overweight teens be shamed for their size? Absolutely not. Should they be encouraged to achieve a healthy body weight via sound nutrition and enjoyable movement? Absolutely yes.

    Reply
  7. Kelsey Nix - October 23, 2022 10:45 am

    In defense of English majors, I never lived in my parents’ basement. Granted, they didn’t have one.

    I think Becky is already an exceptional human—any young person with an artistic outlet and an appreciation for the Great Twain has some powerful tools for survival.

    Thanks for another great story, Sean.

    Reply
  8. Roxanne Taylor - October 23, 2022 11:01 am

    As someone who has been overweight since childhood, I’ve had a lifetime of bullying. I have come to the conclusion that hurting people hurt people. Living life as a morbid obese adult is very difficult. You can’t always fit in chairs, you can’t walk long distances, and your arm is too large for a B/P cuff. Thankfully in 2018 I joined a weight loss program and started tracking what I ate. It took 1 1/2 years, but I got healthy and lost 127 pounds. I will never forget where I came from, and my heart is full of compassion for those who are morbid obese. You never know what challenges a person faces, until you have walked in their shoes. Becky, God made you a beautiful young woman. Look to God for your strength and wisdom, don’t give any bullies control or power over your life!

    Reply
  9. lfhuling - October 23, 2022 11:06 am

    Thank you. I’m keeping this column, probably printing it. I’m going to need it when my book comes out in a couple of months.

    Reply
  10. Elgin Carver - October 23, 2022 11:08 am

    The trick to online bullying is to not care what they think

    Reply
    • Lyle Koehn - October 24, 2022 12:40 pm

      I have to remind myself… “What people think of me is none of my business.”

      Reply
  11. Leigh Amiot - October 23, 2022 11:28 am

    Becky, I’m so sorry that others couldn’t rejoice with you over your happiness of being at the lake with friends. I believe everyone, if they are truthful, has to wrestle sometimes with feelings of jealousy or envy. The decision can be made, being happy for you and your friends getting to go to the lake and have fun together, or people can give in to negative feelings. I’m so sorry you experienced such a bombardment of meanness at such a tender age.

    If I were raising children now, I wouldn’t allow them on social media. Many adults aren’t even able to set a good example on how it should be used.

    Reply
  12. Carol - October 23, 2022 11:45 am

    How I look forward to, and love, your stories, Mr. Sean of the South! The dedication and effort they take, so as to have them daily, is enormous and deeply appreciated How happy I am to have discovered them, and you.

    As to you, Miss Becky, time is the great teacher of all. You will emerge from the difficulties of teenage years as a far stronger person. Your misguided, sad “friends” are less likely to do so. Ask any adult what happens at a 10-year H.S. reunion, much less a 20-year (if one goes to them, and I do recommend, in most cases, a person try to go to them, espec. the 20-year). All of this ugliness sorts itself out in amazing ways (it all comes out in the wash), You will see that your strengths and beauty have blossomed.They will have carried you far, into wonderful things. Perhaps that isn’t reassuring now, Becky. Just try to keep a long view, the best you can. Raise your head above the din. Read great books (classic literature), which address so many of these universal feelings and problems. Watch great operas, where hard themes are grappled with through gorgeous music. And sink yourself into the masterpieces of art. Each is a drama, like your drama in many ways. Your shallow, hate-spewing friends may not even know these worlds of beauty and inspiration exist. These can fill your world for now, and help balance out the trite, hate-filled comments that assail you.

    Reply
  13. Sandy Nicholson - October 23, 2022 11:56 am

    Dear Sean, Every morning I look forward to your email. They always make my day so much better. You’re a good man and we all love you. God bless.

    Reply
  14. Julie, RN - October 23, 2022 12:06 pm

    Hecklers…just another variety of mean spirited people. They inflict mental anguish on their targets, hoping to inflict pain, thereby pumping up their own low self-esteem. I say “Kill Them With Kindness.” If more victims did that, the heckler would give up, because he’s failing to upset them. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll want what you have,,,a positive self image.

    Reply
  15. Steve Scott - October 23, 2022 12:51 pm

    Mean people are weak people and bullies are cowards

    Reply
  16. Martha Wellsandt - October 23, 2022 1:06 pm

    Forwarding to two teens who need to read this. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Laura Bracey - October 23, 2022 1:23 pm

    Thanks for being a light in this dark world. Enjoyed your show in Fort Payne last night. Would have loved to meet you, Jamie and Marigold but I don’t do “waiting in line” well. Maybe, one day, I’ll run into you at Burger King. That’s how I met Kathryn Tucker Windham in Selma. Made my day! Keep shining, Laura

    Reply
  18. Toni - October 23, 2022 1:27 pm

    Sean you think it was bad for boys having Husky size… try being a girl having Chubby and Pretty Plus sizes. 😭

    Becky, I have been where you are at. I used to ask my mom to find a blind school for me to attend. Not because I am blind, but because I figured if everyone else was blind, they might like me because they couldn’t see me.
    Becky, I am praying for you to find your own special people that will love you for you. I wish I could know you in person so I could be your friend. 🧡💙❤️🤍💚💜💛

    Reply
  19. Richard Owen - October 23, 2022 1:57 pm

    I left social media for two reasons. One, the facebook algorithm that kept “suggesting subjects I did not want to see or read about. Two, all the a**holes that are out there, like you said, hiding behind screen names. I have been much more relaxed and happier since leaving social media. The people that know me also know how to get in touch with me if they desire.
    Oh, I guess there is a third reason. People like Zuckerberg have gotten rich and, more importantly, arrogant with social media. I refuse to pander to the likes of him, Soros, Gates and the rest.

    Reply
  20. Patricia Gibson - October 23, 2022 2:07 pm

    Becky, if you see this comment, I prayed for you today. I don’t understand all the hate out there either but you are not alone. I handle it by feeling sorry for them. Can you imagine what it must be like to be filled with so much venom and hate? They can’t be very happy people. You matter and are beautiful!!

    Reply
  21. tbell1914 - October 23, 2022 2:21 pm

    Sean, there’s one way to get rid of hecklers: dump social media and pick up a pencil and piece of paper instead. Bullies don’t understand cursive.

    Reply
  22. Mim - October 23, 2022 2:28 pm

    Hello, Becky…you belong right where you are. Don’t try to fit into the slots of what mean people say but just remember you belong.

    Reply
  23. Sean of the South: Dear Sean | The Trussville Tribune - October 23, 2022 4:19 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

    Reply
  24. Sandra Siegel - October 23, 2022 4:58 pm

    When you put something on social media you becime a target for haters. Ignore them.

    Reply
  25. Pamela Davis - October 23, 2022 5:06 pm

    I too was bullied but it was by a relative. I was told you don’t need to eat that, are you sure you want to eat that, it is fattening. I am now 70 years old and still overweight. The words still ring in my head. I had no one to talk to when I was young, I know how it hurts to think you are not good, skinny enough, or smart enough. I am sorry for anyone who goes through that as a child.

    Reply
  26. Helen De Prima - October 23, 2022 5:47 pm

    The Internet is like fire which can warm you and cook your food or burn your house down. Value the good stuff and turn your back on the rest.

    Reply
  27. Karen - October 23, 2022 7:27 pm

    You nailed it. Thank you for standing up for this young lady and others who become so hurt by the bullies.

    Reply
  28. Paul Sams - October 23, 2022 9:58 pm

    Becky, this is my advice. I know words can hurt, you can’t change the people who say hateful things. It is sad that they are such mean and negative people. If you don’t do this yet, please start now. When you look in the mirror, love the person that is looking back at you. I know it is your reflection in the mirror. It is a reflection of one of the most important people in the world. That person is you. You are as valuable and important now as you would be at a lower weight. I don’t know your faith, but in my Christian faith, we are told to love others as we love ourselves. It is important to love yourself. I have struggled with my weight for the last 50 years. I finally learned that I had to realize I was important and had much to offer this world if I treated people right. You were with your friends, I’m sure they care about you, and you care about them. It’s true words can hurt, but don’t allow those words to make you feel less than what you really are now. Those who make hateful comments have used time that could have been better used to help lift someone up. Be yourself, you have much to give to this world, don’t allow anyone to take that from you. Take care of your self Becky.

    Reply
  29. MAM - October 23, 2022 10:19 pm

    I am still heckled because, I, too, am a writer. I choose not to do social media, except for remaining in communication with a few friends and family members. And when barbed words are sent from others through email, I simply ignore them. And as a Christian, we recite in The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The second part is the hard part! But it’s what God wants us to do. To “Becky” and all the Beckies out there, be strong in yourself and ask God for help. He answers prayers.

    Reply
  30. Stacey Wallace - October 24, 2022 1:41 am

    Becky, spend less time on social media and more time with your true friends because they love you. Just block the mean spirited people out there. As a Christian, I know we need to pray for people like that, but it is hard when they hurt sweet people like you. I am a “Pooh-sized” woman, but I am beautiful to my husband. I‘ll bet you are, too. We taught middle school for 30 years and know how cruel people can be. Keep your head up, Sweetie and ignore ignorant people. Love to you.

    Reply
  31. Cindy Welch - October 24, 2022 2:35 pm

    When a friend is in a storm, don’t be a broadcaster, get an umbrella and cover them…copied from a screen on Facebook…but should be what we do!

    Reply
  32. Arelene Mack - October 24, 2022 3:42 pm

    Let haters be haters as it will eventually consume them and they will just blow away. In the MEAN (pun!) time, think only once about what is said or done, ask yourself Does This Apply To Me? If yes, modify whatever you like. If not, get a good laugh at their expense and pray for them that their <> is multiplied back upon their own head zillions of times – that is, let their own words be prophetic for their own life. This makes you feel really good to Pray For Your Enemies like the Bible says! Just stay sweet and keep being kind. So many people need kindness so much.

    Reply
  33. Beryl - October 24, 2022 3:50 pm

    Ahhhh, haters, more accurately, SELF-haters, with a penchant for CONTROL in their own minds. You see, thoughts become things. This is simply a misinterpretation of the thought. Our job is to send the thought back with kindness. Here is a reframing of this vitriol. “I am saddened by your negative banter toward me. I believe you are worthy of kindness just as I am. May your day be filled with self-love of the deepest Nature.” This does not need to be written into social media. Your thought will include yourself and anyone who chose to defame your magnificence. NO ONE CAN TAKE THIS AWAY FROM YOU. If you find your thoughts wandering away from your own magnificence, simply breathe in and out and say what is true. I AM MAGNIFICENT!! By the way, there is nothing wrong, it’s simply the wrong arrangement of what is right. Change your mind and you change your world.

    Reply
  34. Megntally - October 24, 2022 7:11 pm

    I rarely join in the comments…but Becky sounds like my daughter…all those good things like graphic designer who loves horse, articulate, and kind. I’ll share one of my Daddy’s favorite pieces of advice: They can’t get your goat unless you tell ’em where its tied. I agree with Corndog. Let THEM get over the fact that you don’t respond to THEIR issues.

    Reply
  35. Debbie Johnson - October 24, 2022 11:09 pm

    Becky,
    The Bible says “you were fearfully and wonderfully made”; Jesus new you before you were in your mother’s womb. You are perfect just the way you are! You are beautiful just as you are. Don’t let others describe you or tell you how you look. When you look in the mirror just think; Jesus made you just the way He wanted you. He is perfect and does not make mistakes. For all the haters out there, I think you will find there are more people who love you. Debbie

    Reply
  36. Louis - October 27, 2022 11:36 pm

    Wonderful story Sean. I used in my 8th grade guys Sunday school class Sunday. Very impactful. Thanks!

    Reply

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