Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review - Dare to Be Kind

Original Title: Dare to Be Kind: How Extraordinary Compassion Can Transform Our World
Series: -
Author: Lizzie Velásquez
Published: June 6th, 2017

Publisher: Hachette Books
Let me clarify something. I never read nonfiction. I know some people love it and prefer it over any type of novel, short story, or whatever writing form you can think of, but I’m not one of them. I just need a good plot to keep me engaged and passing one page after another wanting to find the answers to an amazingly concocted story. Or at least, that’s what I expect every time I pick a new book. However, I had to make an exception with this one. 

I’m a big fan of Lizzie Velasquez and I consider her one of the bravest, most beautiful women in the world. In case you don’t know who she is, Lizzie is an American author and motivational speaker who, at the age of 17, was labeled by Internet bullies as “The World’s Ugliest Woman”, due to a very rare and only recently diagnosed syndrome she was born with, that doesn’t allow her to gain weight and only a few other people in the world have. You can find her talks online, she has several in which she explains her syndrome and tells her story, and she also has her personal YouTube channel, here, if you want to take a look. But my favorite is her TEDx AustinWomen talk, that truly left me speechless and gave me a lot to think:

In this book, Lizzie tells us her story and her memories, not only on bullying, but also about the circumstances of her birth, how her syndrome affects her life, and how it doesn’t define who she is. She talks about her family and friends, and although I don’t know them, I can relate to the feelings and situations she went through, especially around finding friends who are truly worth keeping. And also, I could relate around chapter 8, when she talks about her dog, Ollie. I can truly understand what she means when she says that the puppy saved her life, as my own dog, a beautiful, loving black giant named Loki, came one day, and since then my home is a different place, for the better. I didn’t really know how dogs could be, as I never had one that lasted long, but now I see that they are little angels sent to teach us about unconditional love, loyalty and friendship. Everything she says about Ollie is true, and if you don’t have a dog, I sincerely encourage you to adopt one. You will have found your best friend.

The reason why I grabbed this book is because, recently, I’ve been hearing of a lot of bullying cases, in the news, and online, that, sadly, end with kids or teenagers attempting to take their own lives, due to their suffering at the hands of their peers. I myself, back when I was a kid, had to go through many years of non-stop bullying, and although I thank God that I never suffered physical violence, the truth is that words and attitudes can cut as deeply as the sharpest knife, and scars take an eternity to fade, if they ever do. So as Lizzie shared her story and her darkest moments in her book, I want to share some of mine, to all of you out there who think that there’s no case like yours, that this is never going to end. Your situation, if you are bullied, are a lot more relatable than you think, and let me tell you, it’s not an endless darkness. I know it, because I’ve been there, and I got out. Of course, I know that things were different back then. Every time I look back when I was 8, 9, 10 years-old, I feel grateful that we didn’t have social media back then, or things could have gone out of hand very easily. When I was a kid, bullying didn’t have a name. It was just something kids do in school, that is normal, because it’s just a part of it. But the truth is that it’s not that easy, and Lizzie explains adults’ attitude towards it in the clearest terms, that I saw with my own eyes:

Some people believe bullying is a normal part of childhood—so normal, in fact, that they might not even consider certain behaviors to be bullying at all.

Just as Lizzie, I have a few stories of my own. As a kid, in middle and high school, I did what all of us do: try to fit. Needless to say, it didn’t fully work. I had friends, yes, but not a best friend, not someone I could talk to, and share everything I loved. Since forever I’m a reader and a writer, I love fantasy and romance, but in school, I was just the “book swallower”, the nerdy, unremarkable girl that no one noticed, except when there was a test, or a book we had to read and they didn’t understand it. I was laughed at, and called names, on a daily basis, and more than once I heard insults towards my family. I got asked why I was that fat, when I really wasn’t. I once was called “uglier than a bat”, by this guy who said he would take me to the field trip we were going to, so I could scare bats away with just my face. Another time, I fell into a sewer, as I was so angry with my bullies I didn’t watch my step, and as I clung to the sidewalk to get out, they just laughed and pointed at me, instead of helping me. I spent one PE class after another, as teams were being formed, left sitting there, humiliated as the last one, as I watched the captains looking at each other to decide which team would take me, as none of them wanted me, and I came home crying my eyes out, and wondering why I just kept going to school.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the sake of brevity, and my own heart, I won’t delve deeper. So, what’s the point of that bunch of bad memories? Not to make you feel sorry for myself, because I don’t want that. Just to tell you that I get it. I know what bullying means, I know what it is not wanting to go back to school, and repress your anger as tears go down your cheeks. And I also know how it is to defend yourself, and having adults take the bullies’ side, when your life is a living hell. Even now, sitting here, a new memory comes to me, when a teacher yelled at me as I was standing in front of the entire class, for everyone to see, because I had failed an exam on verb conjugations. I was 12 years old. My heart still aches a little bit when I remember that, proving that teachers are as capable of being bullies as kids are, and in a worse kind of way, because they are supposed to be the mature adult in the situation. But I power through all these memories, because as Lizzie says, they are not going to win. They don’t define me.

Have you ever looked for a book’s genre? When you go to GoodReads you can see them listed in each book’s individual page, so you can know if it is fantasy, romance, mystery or whatever genre you can think of. But, did you notice that, when you read that book, that little word didn’t truly cover it, that the book was far more complex than just a fantasy, or a romance, that it had many subplots and a ton of characters, each deeper than the other? The same happens with us. When we are bullied, names are applied to us, and hurtful things are said about us. But the truth is that, just like those books, that doesn’t describe us. We are far, far, more complex than whatever name we are called by, and it is our responsibility to make our story shine. Now, I’m not saying that we are books, or intend to compare people to them. But I do like to say that we are all writers in some way. We, and no one else, is in charge of writing our own story, and NO ONE is allowed to stop us. I decided, a long time ago, even when things were really tough, that I am the only one in charge of my story. Lizzie even says this in her book:

Wherever you are right now, you’ve gotten there because of your own remarkable qualities and experiences. You are the person who led the way to where you are today. The good choices you’ve made and the bad ones, the positive experiences you’ve had and the negative ones—all of it is your story.

You, my friend, that you are reading this, and can relate to what I’ve told you, need to know that you are more than just the bullied boy or girl, and that everything is about choices. You choose to let the bullies win, or not. Please, don’t sink into silence. Speak up. Ask for help, and don’t be afraid. Just as Lizzie says, you decide if your path is going to be good or bad, and I believe that all of us were born for a reason, among the trillion possibilities of coming to this world being who we are, with the body type, the eye color, the personality and character we have. Even when we don’t notice at first, and the bullies’ voices and opinions fill our head and seem to be louder than a thunder, they are just that. Noise. An annoying cacophony that you can shut up with your personality and qualities, your talents, and the fulfilling of your goals. You can fight back by not letting them define you, just as Lizzie says in her TEDx talk, and remarks in her book:

I am here to tell you: It is fine to be who you are. It is a good thing not to be just like everybody else. What makes you unique is what makes you beautiful, because it’s what makes you you. And the world needs you, exactly as you are. That’s the truth, plain and simple.

I spent years of my life bullied by classmates and even college professors for what I liked, and especially because I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Stories are my passion, my best way to communicate with people, but some college professors literally laughed at my face and didn’t take me seriously when I said it, convinced that I was in the wrong place, that because they couldn’t teach me how to do that, it was a delusional thing, a fleeting dream in the head of a naïve teenager, and that I would eventually give up. But, just like Lizzie says and explains, the best revenge are your accomplishments, and a happy life. My work was never good for them, because it was too “literary” for their taste, and they gave me every reason not to try. But they never, and I mean, NEVER, could slap the pen out my hand, because that’s my decision, and they don’t have a say in the matter. It wasn’t until years later, when I chose a different course of studies, when I truly found a voice. The voice of the storyteller I never stopped being, and although at first I was overly shy, and scared of being laughed at again, I found people who truly saw me, the real me, and for the first time I was told, as I was close to tears, that “if they don’t or won’t listen, it’s their loss.” And now, I say the same thing to you. Your voice is worth to be heard. You were born unique. Your talents and virtues do not have a match out there, and no matter what, you are a full human being for who there’s no barriers if there’s determination enough. And I tell you what, the world is depending on whatever purpose you are meant to achieve. Get rid of all those thoughts that eat away your brain, because nothing, and I mean NOTHING they say or do, is worth your life. I don’t know your story, but I know mine, and I finally come to understand that I’m more than that bullied little girl, and that if I don’t move forward because of those jerks, they would be winning a match that only should be my victory. Have things hurt? Yes. There were dark times? Yes. But they didn’t, and won’t, define me. 

About this, I would love for you to listen to Andrea Pennington in her TEDxIUM talk, where she encourage us to become who we really are, to LOVE who we are, in direct connection to Lizzie's words. It left me speechless, they are twenty minutes of PURE GOLD.

The world would be a very different place if we just replace three of every five hurtful words with a kind one. Just as Lizzie wants to tell us in her book, something as simple as kindness can save us, and change the world around us. 

Also, what Lizzie tries to tell us with every word, is that true beauty comes from within, and that's what we all need to understand and remember every single day. This world is too demanding in terms of physical perfection, and the standards are unattainable, so I won't waste the only life I've got trying to fit them. The only people in our lives that are worth keeping around are those brave enough to look past all of our physical imperfections (because everyone has them), to the person we really are, because all of us are worthy of love, and love creates beauty. 

Finally, one more thing. Adults, especially teachers, DON’T IGNORE BULLYING. Don’t pretend it’s not there, just because you think you can’t handle it. Step forward, and take the bullied person’s side. Take action, because this is literally costing lives. Stop what you are doing, and listen. LISTEN. Pay attention. Do your job as a grown up and look for the roots of the problem to take it out. Use your place as an educator, as a mature person, to spread kindness and respect, from whatever position you are in. If we unite, and for once we do not respond with curt language, cuss words, insults, or even physical violence, this world would be one step closer to be a better place.

Please. Take the brave decision. Love and forgiveness are ALWAYS the right choice. For the sake of the world, Dare to Be Kind