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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Kindness Project: I Was a Teenage Bully

About The Kindness Project
Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good.  But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole . It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

"I Was a Teenage Bully"
I was born into a family of critics. My mother, my grandmother, my aunts and uncles…they all had opinions about the things others did, and those opinions, more often than not, were negative.

"I can't believe he let her sing in church."

"He's only faking sick to get attention."

"Did you see what she was wearing? What made her think someone her size could pull that off?"

"I don't know how he thinks he's good enough to do that for a living."

And as it goes, before too long, those negative things filtered down to me. I went through my childhood afraid of what people would think of me because I heard what my family was saying behind closed doors. About other people. About each other. About me.

After all, it's hard not to believe you're the "fat pig" the school bully thinks you are when your Aunt Rose is sending you anonymous dieting tips in the mail.

I don't want to imply that I was bullied in school. I mean, I was, but that's beside the point. It isn't the being bullied that tore me apart as a teen. It was being the bully.

Because being around (and subjected to) that much negativity? Having those around me nitpick every little imperfection, point out every flaw, even the flaws that weren't even flaws until someone said they were? It rubbed off.

And that muck didn't just distort my view of everyone else. It distorted my view of me, too. All those imperfections I was seeking out in other people? I was finding all of them--and then some--in myself. I was convinced everyone else could see them, too.

So in eighth grade, when my new friend decided she didn't like my old friend, I ditched my old friend and set out to prove to my new friend that I could be just as cool (read: mean) as she was. Not because I wanted to, really. But because I felt like I had no other choice. I could either be picked on, or I could pick on someone else. And I was really, really tired of being picked on.

I won't tell you what we did, only that it was sixteen years ago and I'm still ashamed of it. Ashamed in a way that leaves me breathless and makes me close my eyes and tightens like a noose around my neck. Ashamed in a way that even typing this I'm wondering if I should even be a part of this project, because what I did? Unforgivable.

(And for what it's worth, that thing about reaping what you sow? Totally true. The following year I got what was coming to me, when new friend did to me what I had done to my old friend.)

I know the goal of today's post was to share a little something about how I've seen kindness affect people, not to talk about bullying.

But the fact of the matter is, the moments of absolute kindness I've experienced…they are precious. So precious that I (selfishly) don't want to share them.

And writing about some of the kind things I've done for others? Well, it didn't feel right to do that without first coming clean about how I've mistreated people in the past.

These days, it's en vogue to be anti-bullying. And while that's admirable, I wonder if it isn't at least a little bit misguided. I mean, really? That's the standard? That's the bar we're setting? To not mistreat people? That's the best we can do?

Because to me, that's kind of like being a doctor and taking an oath to try and not kill people on purpose.

Shouldn't we be capable of more than not doing something? Shouldn't we be capable of doing something? Something good?

Because as a former bully, I know that as easy as it is to ruin someone's day, it's even easier to make their day a little bit better. That rude note left on her desk in first period geography could just as easily be a text message wishing her a good day; that foot stuck out to trip someone in the lunch line could just as easily be a hand reaching out to help someone who has fallen.

I grew up thinking that kindness was an all or nothing game, that you either had to move mountains or stay out of the way of those who could. Now that I'm older, I know better. No one person or one act of kindness can change the world.

But a million people doing a million little things?

There's power in that.

And that's why I'm doing this. And why I hope you'll join in.

A single act of kindness can make a world of difference to the person who receives it.

Not sure where to start? Think of the thing you want/need most in your life right now--patience, support, forgiveness--and give it to someone else.

Posting today for The Kindness Project:
Elizabeth Davis
Christa Desir
Sarah Fine
Liza Kane
Amie Kaufman
Sara Larson
Matthew MacNish
Sara McClung
Gretchen McNeil
Tracey Neithercott
Lola Sharp
Michele Shaw
Meagan Spooner
Carolina Valdez Miller


  1. What a beautiful post. I think your experience makes you uniquely qualified to understand what it can mean, reaching out and offering a moment of kindness, and I'm so glad to be doing this with you.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. And don't be too hard on yourself. We've all made mistakes, especially as a kid and in the teenage years and okay as an adult. The important thing is to learn from them. I love your kindness project.

  3. I love how you flipped the script on this, Liz! Also, nice to meet you.

  4. I think this is so lovely and honest. I wasn't always the nicest child myself, and I think it can often be that experience that teaches us as adults how to choose kindness. Because it really is a conscious choice.

    Excited to be doing this project with you!

  5. Oh Liz, thank you for sharing this. Know that you're not alone in having done something mean in the past. I have regrets about careless--or intentional--hurts I caused when I was younger (and, if I'm honest, as I'm getting older) that make my chest ache almost every day. 

    I'm so happy to be a part of this project with you :) Even between yesterday morning and now, I already feel like my mindset has shifted a little bit further toward the kinder side. 

  6. Awesome post, Liz. We all have moments we aren't proud of, but owning and learning from them go a long way to making the world better.

  7. Thank you for sharing this! And my thoughts exactly on the anti-bullying campaign-->" That's the bar we're setting? To not mistreat people? That's the best we can do?"
    One person committed to exercising kindness can create unbelievable change. I wholeheartedly believe this, and am happy to find community in this project.

  8. Wow, what an amazing, honest, beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this. And I completely agree with everything you said.

  9. Thank you, Liz, for your honesty. *hugs*

     Please, let go of the shame now. Shame is so destructive.
     The best way we can let go of our shame is to learn from our mistakes and make daily efforts to reach out to others and share kindness, love, comfort.We get by giving. And forgiving. Forgiving others...and ourselves.I hope the kitties are doing well. How's Cricket? And Calliope? Hugs,

  10. What an amazingly honest post. Thank you. And please know that many many of us have done the same. I was bullied horribly for a year and went on to be mean to others. Not sure I 'bullied' but I was definitely not kind! I also believe in millions of small kindnesses will change our world. Let's change it one kindness at a time. A smile can be all it takes :)

  11. Sorry, didn't leave my blog details:

  12. Absolutely amazing post. The absence of cruelty isn't kindness, true, so I appreciate the reminder that simply being silent and not causing pain isn't the same thing as doing something to heal it. Thank you for your brave honesty!

  13. Your honesty is humbling and precious. I know you to be a truly kind, good friend, Liz. This person you were is not who you are now. Not even close. But it's the goodness, the kindness in you that leaves you still feeling the pain of your past. But I think you also need to be kind to yourself and forgive the who that you were. I don't think you'll ever forget, and that's a good thing, but forgiveness? Once you find it, I think you'll find the strength to be exactly the person you want to be--no, to see yourself as you already are--kind and loving and generous and nurturing and caring and amazing.

  14. Great post.  I really appreciate it.  I did two things that were totally wrong to other people before I turned eleven and still can't own up to what I did - and I won't forget that feeling.  I felt so bad, I became a nicer person.  I think that's how it goes when we're kids - we push limits and learn from it (some of us don't).  I'll definitely join in.

  15. Wow, Liz, what an amazing post. I loved seeing it from this new point of view. Thank you for your honesty. I love what you said at the end: Think about something you need and give it to someone else. Well if that isn't kindness right there...

  16. wow. you GUYS - I'm so in love with what you're doing here. Seriously. In. Love.

  17. "These days, it's en vogue to be anti-bullying. And while that's admirable, I wonder if it isn't at least a little bit misguided. I mean, really? That's the standard? That's the bar we're setting? To not mistreat people? That's the best we can do?" THIS THIS THIS. 

    Also, so brave of you to write this post.I, too, have things that make me pause and reconsider ever trying to encourage anyone. What gives me the right? I plan on blogging that fear in the very near future.




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