I was the one who never spoke up in class. I was the girl who clung to the edges of the hallways in high school, never making eye contact. I was the one afraid to say hi to the boy I liked. I was terrified of hearing my own voice. So how is it that I now stand in front of hundreds of students on an ongoing basis, advising them on how to face their own fears and combat bullying?
"SPEAK UP," I say. "Do not remain a silent bystander."
Because, truth is, that's the only way to put an end to bullying.
We know the numbers by now. An estimated thirteen million children are bullied each day. More than 160,000 skip school because of bullying. Every seven minutes, a child is bullied. And the statistics go on and on.
But we have yet to focus on the most important number.
In all the speeches I give in schools about bullying, that is the number I focus on. One.
It takes just one person to stand up to a bully, and within a few minutes, the bullying will end. It takes just one person to make someone feel needed, to make a teen feel like he is not utterly alone -- so alone that he wants to take his own life. It takes just one person to talk to a trusted adult in order to intercept a bullying situation, an intended school shooting, a suicide.
When I end each speech, I encourage my audience to do one thing when they leave. I tell them to do one kind thing each day. "Go out of your way," I instruct them, "to make someone feel good about themselves." It doesn't have to be a huge thing. Something small and effortless. A simple compliment. An acknowledgement of a task well done. A smile. I tell them to think about what would cheer them up on their darkest of days and to extend that to someone else.
It seems so incredibly simple and I-can't-believe-I-didn't-think-of-that easy. Something that you would assume people do anyway, without having to be told. But look around. Most of us have our eyes glued to our phones, endlessly checking emails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates. We are losing the social interaction that is so vital to encouraging a climate of compassion. According to some estimates, almost 300 billion emails are sent across the Internet each day, with people checking email up to several times an hour. So much time spent communicating at a distance, yet ignoring those immediately around us.
After one of my speeches at a high school, a teenager told me that she had recently gone out of her way to compliment a boy -- a loner -- about his artwork. She liked it and wanted to let him know. He informed her that she was the first person who had spoken to him at school in three years. What he said next shocked her even more. He had been planning on taking his own life because he didn't have any friends, didn't have anyone to talk to, didn't have anyone who cared about him. She told him that he had her now. He had that one friend that he could live for. One. That's all it takes.
So now, after so many years out of school, so many incidents in my life that have made me stronger -- giving birth to a premature child in my 20s, enduring open-heart surgery in my early 30s and most recently, working with incredibly talented authors to put out a powerful book on bullying -- I still feel that twinge of fear when I stand in front of a crowd. I'm actually quite terrified. Yet I push past that fear with every radio interview, every assembly I stand before, every panel I sit on, every person I meet. I push past the fear because I know that somewhere in the crowd, there is at least one girl who is nearly paralyzed with fear -- just as I once was -- who may be in the position one day to save a life (possibly her own) if she moves beyond the fears that hold her back. If she can let go and be brave, then we will be one step closer to putting an end to bullying. One by one by one, we will stop the bullies and we will save lives.
For more by Megan Kelley Hall, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.
 Zur, O. (2011). Teen Violence, School Shootings, Cyber-Bullying, Internet Addiction, T.V. and gaming Violence & Teen Suicide: Facts, Ideas, And Actions, Online Publication by Zur Institute. Retrieved 6/7/2012 from http://zurinstitute.com/teenviolence.html.
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