Bees in the Mouth: Naming and Being for Victims of Bullying

Shared Stories
on November 1, 2011

Bullies and Bees in the Mouth: Naming and Being for School Children.

Bob Harrison


We can employ adequate enough proximity control to protect students from physical assaults, but even the most vigilant supervision cannot hope to prevent bullies from verbally assaulting their victims. Because we can't prevent it, we have to teach kids to protect themselves. The place to start is to go inside, to go to the victim's interior landscape where the injuries from ridicule and humiliation leave their invisible scars. In there, we can help the victims of verbal abuse understand that naming is not being. The nature of language itself is proof that a child is not the mean, insulting name the bully called him. Insults are empty vessels. Bullies who taunt and provoke lose their sting when kids understand that naming has no physical connection to being. Bullies trade in names, names made of air (sound waves), or ink, or, with the prevalence of social media, electronic images of words, none of which have a tangible connection to physical being, to the being, the child, or the person. A name is always separate from what is being named. An ancient image applies to bullies who verbally abuse classmates: they go around with a bee in their mouth. When they make comments that sting, when they say things that are hurtful or demeaning to another child, they are carrying bees in the mouth. The hurt, a sting to some but a persistent ache to a child who is repeatedly subjected to verbal abuse, can be minimized by teaching children the nature of their language so they will understand the true nature of insults. Victims of bullying and their abusers fail to note the most important characteristic of language, the very nature of it: naming is not being.


Words do sting, sometimes very badly, because we are sensitive and because we fail to notice the obvious. When stung, we seem to forget that cruel, biting words are nothing more than bad air. A soccer ball can be used to help kids distinguish between naming and being. A soccer ball is called a football everywhere but in America. When we hear the name football, we think of an elliptical shape. We picture a pigskin with laces. We think of Peyton Manning and Julius Peppers. When the rest of the world hears football, they think of a round ball without laces that is kicked. They think of David Beckham and Ronaldo. But it does not matter what you call the ball. The name has no effect whatsoever on the object being named. And the name cannot break glasses and split lips. The object itself, the hard, air-filled ball hurts, not the name. Try it. Have a child say football or soccer ball to a friend or classmate. Was he injured? Did he even flinch? No. You need not consequently hit them with a ball to make them understand the distinction because you know what effects the ball will have when it makes contact with someone’s face. They have all been hit by a ball at one time or another.


Put simply, the name of the ball won't hurt or break anything. Look at the sentence, This is a pizza. Obviously not, you can’t eat the word pizza. If there was no distinction between naming and being, parents would not have to buy supper. They would just sit you down in the evening and merely say, "cabbage, cornbread, beans and country-fried steak." You would go to bed hungry because naming is not being. The same is true of the sentence [You] are an idiot. Calling someone a name, an idiot, or a dummy, or a joke, or a creep, or a loser (all nouns, which, by definition, name) does not make him one any more than saying supper puts food on the table. Yes, it is simple, so obvious, yet the distinction goes unnoticed when we are being ridiculed. We forget about that when people single us out and objectify us, e.g., Prep, Jock, Goth, Emo, Geek, Skater Dude, Nerd. We forget that naming is not being because we are overly sensitive and because we all care about what people say they think of us. The bee in the mouth will sting less, will, in fact, lose its sting altogether, when we note that naming is not being.


There are so few things in life that children can control. They do not choose their parents, how wealthy they are, what cars they drive, what their house looks like or where it is. They had no control over what color their eyes were going to be, or the texture and color of their hair, no control over the color of their skin or their ethnicity. They had no control over how big their feet were going to be or how tall they would grow. They had no control over what areas of giftedness they would be born with, what academic, artistic, athletic, or social skills they would have. They control so little, but they do choose how they use language and how it is received by them. Keeping the bees out of their mouths at school is a choice. Responding to insults or dismissing them is a choice. Children who are taught to distinguish between naming and being are less effected by the bad air of mean, stinging names because they have control over how they are received. They find it easier to ignore the bullies who go around school with bees in their mouth because they see that language is the culprit, not being. They don‘t have to study Peirce, Langer, and Percy to understand the triadic nature of language. It is simple and obvious. Naming and being are two of the three elements, the name football, the air, sound vibrations, and the object, the thing that hurts like heck. We are the third, us, one another, you and I, the bully and the bullied. We, the namers, are the third element. When children begin to understand the nature of their language, when they make an effort to notice the distiction between naming and being and their role in the transaction that is language, bullies will find that their bees have lost their ability to sting.

 311 Tate St.

Morganton, NC 28655


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