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"I am tired of hating people," said Zak Ebrahim's mother after years of fervently defending her religious beliefs.
Hate is such a powerful word, and when a family is forced to live under the rule of judging others rather than accepting them for who they are, it can be emotionally devastating.
Ebrahim, in his youth, had to face the reality that his father and uncles were terrorists involved in the World Trade Center attacks. On top of that, his family moved many times, which caused Ebrahim to live with constantly being the new kid. Ebrahim always encountered the same issue in the schools he attended: he was chubby, reserved and socially awkward, which makes him a prime target for bullying.
Bullying and bigotry are two sides of the same negative coin.
Ebrahim was living a life that was out of his control. Everywhere he turned, he was judged for things others have done, for his ethnicity or simply because he was fat!
Peer cruelty is painful for anyone at any age. When it is heaped atop other difficulties, it can be soul crushing.
Zak Ebrahim's message is strong and clear after being raised in a bigoted family. He was taught from a young age to judge people for arbitrary reasons such as race, religion and sexual orientation.
Being bullied as a child created a sense of empathy in Ebrahim. Did bullying open the door to softening his heart and ending the cycle of his family's intolerance?
As the son of a terrorist, he could have lived a life of infamy, he could have chosen to bury his identity in the past. As a victim of bullying, he could have simply moved forward from it, keeping his story secret. He could have possibly even turned to a life of terrorism because of it.
Ending hate can help end bullying.
Those powerful words spoken by Ebrahim's mother probably made her feel as though the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders. Being able to accept others without judgment requires so much less energy and effort than hatred does.
You see, I truly believe that without hate bullying will finally be history.
Can you imagine if all the online trolls and offline bullies decided to give up hating others? What would the world look like if they practiced tolerance instead? What if kindness could replace cruelty?
As a victim of cyberbullying and bullying as an adult, I know that it truly does change your attitude and heart towards others. Like Ebrahim, I made the decision to share my story in an effort to help many others that were struggling with online slander and defamation. I was overwhelmed by the response.
Victims of bullying need to know that they are not alone, they need connection and a sense of community with others who understand what they are going through. Too many lives have already been lost to the suffering caused by bullies. Those of us who have survived the same kinds of trauma need to come forward to help those still in need.
From bullying to bigotry, never judge someone without taking the time to get to know them.
There will always be talking heads and people who don't understand what you have suffered. I am confident Ebrahim still encounters people that blame him for his father's wrongdoings; however, what I have come to realize is that you can't control what others choose to believe.
But you can choose what you believe. Until you are faced with a situation, you truly don't know how you will respond, but you can do your best to reserve judgment and try to be empathetic. Just keep in mind that no matter what circumstances you have endured, you have the ability to make a difference.
The voices of Ebrahim and his mother are the reason that parents and children alike should step up and speak out about breaking down those barriers of hate.
It's an old cliché: treat others as you want to be treated. You never know what others are going through and how big a difference a small act of kindness can make. A single caring word at the right time could change someone's life.
Victims of bullying and bigotry have choices.
Become an upstander and put kindness and caring first:
If you see someone being bullied, don't allow it to continue. Help if you can or tell an adult immediately.
Welcome new people in your neighborhood.
Welcome new students in your school.
Be sure to always speak out against gossip when you hear it.
Respect the differences of others and learn about those differences.
Spark kindness in your community. Be a role model for all.
Ebrahim had choices. He was a boy raised in bigotry, schooled with bullies, yet he was able to see through all the hate and turn it into compassion and kindness for others. It was his own suffering that gave him the strength to fight against terrorism, bigotry, and violence -- he came to realize that there is a better way and his choice was to share this lesson with the world.
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