Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Get Uncomfortable, Be Kind, Speak Up, Make a Difference

This past week an autistic boy had bodily fluids dumped on him in a cruel joke and an NFL star was cut from his team because he was caught on tape beating his wife unconscious.

One thing about social networking is that we can all come together and become a kind of big brother -- have collective outrage for the unjust, cruel, and wrong.
But what worries me is this:
Kids at this boys school knew what was going to happen, who was going to do this, and did nothing to stop it from happening. (And later didn't come forward with the information about who did this). You ask me how I know ... there's no such thing as a secret in high school. Kids knew. Some probably felt uncomfortable about it. Some probably laughed it off.

The NFL knew about Rice's behavior long ago and did nothing until it became public and had to react. You can bet  friends and family knew what was happening as well.

So, we're back to the worst kind of perpetrator of any crime -- silence.

We remain silent because  ...
  • ... it's none of our business.
  • ... we're scared.
  • ... he's an amazing athlete, an asset to the team and sport.
  • ... he was provoked. He's under a lot of pressure.
  • ... he's worth a lot of money. I mean, he probably buys her anything she wants.
  • ... boys will be boys. 
  • ... what happens behind someone's closed doors has nothing to do with us.
  • ... it's what all the kids are doing; it's not really that big of a deal.
  • ... nobody will listen to us anyway.
  • ... we'll look stupid or silly.
  • ... he deserves it. 
  • ... she was drunk, and she's had sex with everyone else anyway.
  •  ... she found the money (wallet, i-phone) just laying there, so who's to say who it belongs to?
  • ... if he passes him some cash, he won't have to get a ticket and go to traffic court. And he's a good guy.
  • ... he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad luck.
  • ... we don't have time to deal with other people's problems.
  • ... it's comfortable

So now we've become arm-chair ethicists, looking for the familiar hashtag, trending topic. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon and raise our voices in forums and feeds. It's easy to have tens, hundreds, thousands of people share our same indignation.
It's not easy, though, to be the single voice to stand up for a friend at school, to tell a teacher you're worried about that kid who always has bruises on her arms, to confide in someone that you've seen the girl down the hall sleeping in the park, to tell your friends to stop trash-talking that girl, to help that kid who is being  terrorized every single day in tiny ways by the popular kids (it's all in fun, right?), to say, "No."  It takes courage to rely on the internal meter we have that tells us when something is wrong, then take action.
That second part is the key -- take action. Do something about it.

We all mess up. But the times in my life I most regret are the times I remained in the shadows while someone else was getting hurt; the times I chose fear, pride, shame over what was the right thing to do; the times I sacrificed integrity to go with the flow, not cause waves, keep the status quo.
The times I forgot that kindness should be the meter for what's right and wrong, not Facebook, hashtags and trends.

Every single day we see the way people treat one another. If you're in middle school or high school, every single day you see that kid get bullied, you see the cyber shaming, you see the cruelty. And, more often than not, you remain silent.
I get that. It's complicated. It's uncomfortable. It's safe.
Here's my call to action. We can be a domino effect of good and what's right, and we don't need the backing of Twitter and trends. It's simple. But oftentimes the simplest acts are the hardest. Try this:

If someone is hurting you, speak up.
If someone is hurting someone else, speak up.
If you are afraid, speak up.
If you have been bullied, beaten, abused ... speak up.
If you see someone being bullied, beaten, or abused ... speak up.
If someone is getting hazed, speak up. 
If someone is trash talking, slut shaming, or bad mouthing others, speak up.
Speak. Up.

You can call a hotline. You can talk to a teacher, a counselor, a friend. You can talk to a parent, a family member, a friend's parent. You can talk to a librarian. You can talk to that kid that's hurting and say, "Hey. Are you okay?" Look her in the eyes. Let her know she matters.
You can choose kindness.
You can make a difference.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Cyber Bully Hotline: 1-800-420-1479
School Violence Hotline: 1-866-748-7047  
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
Domestic Abuse Helpline: 1-888-743-5754

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Back-To-School Wish(es) for You

You've either already begun or are just about to begin.Some of you might feel like a hamster, just spinning wheels in this maddening machine of sameness -- like life is some kind of stage, and everyone's  stuck playing the same parts -- and your part is one of those sucky ones, or you feel like an understudy, a sidekick, or somebody just forgot to ask you to join the play. And then the days pass by in some kind of time warp where everything feels eternal.

So I wish I were a genie to give you all these wishes, the ones I wish for you for today (and every day):

1. I wish you a true friend. You don't need a thousand followers on Instagram. One true friend is more than most can say they have. Being a true friend takes love, courage, loyalty, forgiveness ... so much wonderful in one word.

2. I wish you a place where you can eat lunch, whether it's at a cafeteria table with friends, in the library, in your favorite math teacher's class -- someplace where you don't have to keep your guard up. Someplace where you can exhale.

3. I wish you kindness. I hope you receive it and give it. Be kind. Not just NICE but kind. Because the world, your school, is full of meanness and bullies, and, for lack of a better term, ass hats. You don't need to add to that. Be someone's rainbow. Smile at that kid down the hall whose locker always gets jammed. You know the kid whose bangs flop in his eyes, the one just hoping that nobody will notice he's there. Notice him. Smile at him. Be kind.

4. I wish you strength. It's not easy living through Suckville every day. And some days, I'm sure, you feel like you won't make it. You will. It will get better. It really will get better. It gets better, I promise.Did I mention it gets better?

5. I wish you grit. Grit?? You are not a test score. Tests don't score kindness, integrity, courage, artistic ability, athletic ability, grit. Yep. Grit. The singular most important characteristic of success is grit. If you stick to it, work your tail off, believe, and work and work and work, you will succeed. Don't judge success by arbitrary numbers (the number of a test score, the time in a race, the number you have in a bank account later on). Success is on-going, a process, and it has to do with grit. Just loving what you're doing and working hard is to succeed.

6. I wish you perspective. You are not a category of person; neither are any of your peers. You are so so much more than a silly label or number. You are not a jock, Emo, hipster, geek, gamer ... That's just a silly box others put you in to make sure they can find a place you fit. You are beautiful. You are the reason someone smiles today, and if you aren't, become that reason. You are the reason somebody believes that the day will not be as awful as before. You are a gift.

6. I wish you laughter. Have a sense of humor about yourself, your mistakes, and laugh first, laugh loud. And when you want to cry, cry. Cry hard. Then laugh again.

7. I wish you respect. Respect yourself. Respect your body. Respect your peers and teachers, the bus driver, the janitors, the administration, the librarian ... YOURSELF. Respect yourself. Respect YOURSELF YOUR BODY YOURSELF YOUR BODY. You've got one life (and if believe in reincarnation, fine, so you're reincarnated one day as a firefly. Who knows?), so treat your body with love and respect and demand that others do the same. And if someone doesn't, tell someone you trust. It's not your fault if someone hurts you. You deserve beauty and kindness and respect. It is your HUMAN RIGHT. Tell someone when that basic human right has been violated. So #speakloudly. Use your voice to demand respect.

8. I wish you forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. We all do things we're horrified by. Nobody is perfect. But we can forgive. We can learn. We can be better and learn to make decisions based on kindness and integrity.

9. I wish you happiness. Life, even though everybody tries to sell you this, isn't a never-ending rainbow of joy. You know this. And you were sold a story, a fairy tale of eternal happiness, happily-ever-afters and more. But in all the muck, there are moments of pure happiness. I wish you have those. I wish you those moments of grace that stitch together how broken you may feel, moments that give you light.

10. I wish you love. I hope you love yourself, who you are and who you can be. Look in the mirror and see past the labels and the piles of crap people lay on you -- the crap you lay on yourself. Fight through it, exhale, and remember how amazing you really are.

The best thing about these wishes, truly, is all of them can come true. It all begins with you. So, find a place where you're safe, where you can be you, and remember it gets better. It really does. I promise.

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