I gripped the steering wheel, fretting and generally having a rotten day. Life had dumped on me what seemed like an unfair share of burdens and I felt grumpy, depressed, and anxious. Suddenly, the sunroof on the car ahead of me opened, a hand appeared, the fingertips together and the wrist bent, like a snake’s head or like a curious meerkat. The hand jerked left, right, up, and behind as though a critter were eyeballing its surroundings. The effect was hysterical, and I burst into laughter.
The “creature” continued to “observe” for a couple of blocks, then disappeared inside the car. But it had accomplished something amazing. My mood had lightened. The world suddenly didn’t look so gray. Years later, I still smile when I remember that one simple act by a total stranger, who had made a difference in my day because he had chosen to do something silly.
Life is a series of choices. Some choices are fleeting and inconsequential: Vanilla or chocolate? Salty or sweet?
Some are more important: Italy or England? Joe Morelli or Ranger? Law or art? Chemo or no chemo?
Then there are those choices that fall somewhere in between, the ones that won’t radically change many lives, perhaps not even your life, but might, just might make a lasting difference in the life of one other person. And for young people or for the shy, that might be the most difficult choice of all, because it requires you to stand up, to step in, and to speak out.
I’m referring to the choice people make when they see another person being bullied. Do you walk away and say nothing, hoping the bully won’t turn laser eyes on you? Do you tell someone in authority? Or do you step up and speak out to stop the abuse?
This month, Random Children’s Books launched Choose Kind, a campaign to curtail the nationwide rise in bullying by “using the antidote of everyday acts of kindness.” As described by the Shelf Awareness site, “Chip Gibson, president and publisher of the division, said the initiative was inspired by Wonder (Knopf), the debut novel by R.J. Palacio. The hero at its center, fifth-grader Auggie Pullman, is attending school for the first time. His cranial and facial abnormalities force his fellow students and teachers to come face to face with themselves. “The outpouring of enthusiasm from book lovers and educators moved us to share the poignant message of this novel with a wider audience,” Gibson said. “I am proud to give them, and anyone around the world, the opportunity to discover the story and to pledge with us to Choose Kind.”
The Choose Kind site encourages readers of the book and their families to post their own experiences of being bullied or of times when they wished they had acted differently when witnessing acts of bullying.
Choices. As Rocky learns in my book Bully at Ambush Corner, often the right choice is the hardest. But “choosing kind” when it comes to bullying doesn’t necessarily mean putting oneself in danger. Simply telling someone in authority can be a kindness. Sometimes a kind word to the bullied in private will tell the victim he or she is not invisible, that someone cares. That might be enough to give him or her the courage to take the necessary steps to end the bullying.
The same is true for the bully. A quiet, kind word showing you understand that all is not right in their world might make a difference.
An understanding word. A small act of kindness. How simple. How powerful. And, like a yawn or a smile, hopefully contagious.
Check out the Choose Kind website. Then share your story here about how a small act of kindness made a difference in your life. It doesn’t even have to be related to bullying. It just has to show how a tiny gesture can carry amazing power.