Last week I got an email from a fan telling me her bullying story.
This is normal for me. I mean, I get emails all the time from people from all over the world who open their heart up to me and share what's going on.
Sometimes their stories move me to tears, and I feel so helpless in the face of what they're struggling to deal with.
At other times, I read what they've written, and how they've come through some really challenging stuff, and I just want to throw my arms around them and give them a great big hug and a high-five. Because they've found a way to rise above, in spite of really big odds.
And then there are times when I scratch my head, and I have to step back from my email for a little while before I respond. Because I'm not exactly sure how I should respond. And I want to say the right things. Always.
That's what happened with the email I got last week.
Without giving out too many private details, the girl who reached out to me basically told me about how she had been bullied for many years now by a group of girls at her school. Let's call her Thelma.
I was flattered that she reached out to me. Because although it's pretty sad to know that so many kids need help, I am really honored that they trust me and think of me as a friend.
But the weird thing about this email from this particular girl, is that shortly after, I got a few emails from the girls that were allegedly bullying her.
I guess she boasted about communicating with me and the fact that I responded to her, and the girls found out and wanted me to know their side of the story.
I don't know. They didn't go into too much detail about it, but since I found myself suddenly in the middle of their fight, that's my best guess as to how it happened.
Anyway. According to these girls, Thelma is actually the bully, not them. And the way they explained it, the whole thing started many years ago when they were just joking and playing around.
They thought it was just harmless fun, but she got very upset by what they had done and decided to escalate things by name-calling and even threatening physical violence.
(By the way, I don't think there's any such thing as a harmless insult. If it insults somebody, its not fun. Just because you might laugh when you say something cruel doesn't make it a joke. It's still hurtful, and laughing it off doesn't magically make it OK.)
Their note made me think. Suddenly, things didn't seem so straightforward. Suddenly, the email wasn't about one person who was being hurt, and a group of other people who were intentionally doing the hurting.
And I wasn't exactly sure what to think. I mean, based on what the other girls told me, did this make Thelma the bully?
The funny thing is, they all provided so much detail and their stories are so credible, that I actually believed all of them.
And while I'm not really in a position to judge, I will say this: I think it's so interesting that none of the girls were taking any responsibility for their part in what contributed to the trouble.
You know what I mean?
With all the finger pointing going on, no one was stopping to see what her part was in all of this.
How do I know this? Because if they had, each of the girls would be owning up to what she'd done to make their relationship what it is, and then finding a way to make it better.
Anyway, in their different ways, they were all saying that they wished it would stop. They didn't say they wanted to be friends necessarily, but they have all said that they're sorry about the state things are in today and wish it could be different.
And then, something shifted. Just by wanting things to be different, they started to change.
Because after much discussion, one of the girls (let's call her Louise) realized that she had the power to stop escalating things simply by refusing to continue to hate.
She told me that she suddenly realized that by contacting me and trying to discredit the girl, that that in itself was a form of bullying because she did it with the intent to bring Thelma down.
She also said that from that moment forward, she was going to start being nicer and offer a smile when they passed in the hall.
Pretty huge, right? I love that she realized she couldn't change anyone else, but she had the power to change her own perspective and her own actions.
But that's what's so awesome about being where I am today. I mean, I didn't ask for all this to come from the "Friday" video. But here I am, sometimes listening and just asking a few questions about how to stand up to bullies, and sometimes just being a sounding board for kids to work things out on their own.
Because the thing is, we all know what we need to do in order to put a stop to bullying. I'm just here to offer a shoulder to cry on, or encouragement if it's needed. But for the most part, I think that kids everywhere, if they just step back and think things through, and trust themselves to make the right decision, will do just that.
This girl proved that to me.
I have to say, I am so proud of Louise and her decision to take responsibility for her part of the problem and then to do something about it (even if none of the other girls involved do the same). That is probably one of the best feelings I've had since I set out on my mission of spreading the love, one heart at a time.
I plan to visit their school in a few months and am looking forward to meeting these girls personally, particularly the hero in this story. I'm hoping she will join my efforts and lead the way (at least in her school) on helping to empower teens to build their self-esteem.
By the way, the names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty ;)
What about you? Are you going through an especially tough time at school? What can you do to take control of the situation and make things better? Do you trust yourself to make the right decision? I'm here to listen and help, so drop me an email or leave a comment, below, and let's talk about what's going on. You can also join my Livestream chat about what we can do to stop bullying. It's Friday, November 18 at 7 PM EST at www.livestream.com/bennicinkle.