“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”
– Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
Season 1, Episode 1, “”
Several seasons in, and nearing the end of the series, and still this moment from the very beginning is one of my favorite scenes of the show, and the moment where I saw the first glimpse of Tyrion’s depth.
Tyrion is a dwarf. He was born a dwarf, he has always lived a dwarf, he will die a dwarf. In any society, modern or medieval, that is not the easiest fate to bear. They automatically face challenges which others never will, and they’re often the victims of less-than-decent treatment, solely because of their physical uniqueness.
Tyrion’s had to live with that mockery all his life, but here’s what he’s realized: he’s a dwarf, so what? He can’t change what he is. It’s simply what he is. So instead of letting it be his weakness, he turns it into a strength. Others may laugh at him, and underestimate him, but they have no power over him.
That’s what Tyrion means when he says this to Jon Snow, a young man who has been forced to bear the stigma of being a bastard. A literal one, not a figurative expression about his character. In a culture where rank, importance, trust, even the love of others is heavily influenced by birth and legitimacy, Jon has worn a label that automatically invites ridicule and mistrust. He is keenly in need of this advice from Tyrion.
Interestingly, one of the worst and most hated villains in the show is also a bastard. In the books, this villainous figure is legitimized, and proceeds to do horrible things to anyone who still calls him a bastard. Then, when he comes at direct odds with Jon Snow, he sends a letter, repeatedly calling him a bastard, throwing Jon’s continuing status in his face while simultaneously gloating about how he rose above the label. But by that point, it doesn’t hurt Jon at all. He’s embraced it in the face of more important things, left the hurt of it behind him, while his nemesis is still consumed by it even while trying to make the world forget it.
There are things about ourselves which we can change, and there are things which we cannot. White, black, male, female, disabled, short, tall, Gentile, Jew, autistic… the list is endless. But we can’t change them. We are what we are. There will always be someone who will use that against us, but it doesn’t have to be a weakness. It can be, and should be, our strength.
I remember, I was sometimes a victim of bullying in school because I was the skinny redhead bookworm with a weird voice, a weirder brain, and part of a weird religion. 😉 I was unique. I stood out. But while I often felt hurt by the ridicule, I don’t know if I ever wanted to change what I was. I liked being weird. I liked being me. If I’d really been ashamed, I’d probably have gotten into a lot of fights. Instead, I lived with it and eventually it was just left behind.
I am what I am, and I am not ashamed, so will not be shamed.