I had close friends that survived the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton Colorado in 1999. Several asked me to travel the country with them so I could help develop and deliver their message at various school assemblies and conferences. We did this for a couple years and reached over half a million students across the USA. It was during that time of touring that I discovered that there was a market for speaking to youth. I was pretty ecstatic that I could make a living and a difference by speaking to students. I developed my anti-bullying program at the request of schools that were looking to end hate speech and violence on their campus.While researching bullying for my book and speech, I discovered that a positive way we can end this horrible epidemic is by teaching ancient character values and social skills. Not only do I teach the importance of love, forgiveness, tolerance, diversity, and other virtues; I also teach practical ways that targets of bullying can resolve the bullying issue on their own- without the intervention of an adult. I have witnessed that most students have not been taught how to respond to people who are mean to them. The natural response for any human is to get angry and react- fighting fire with fire. I teach students how to respond with kindness, as one would respond to a friend- not an enemy. This is the classic 'Golden Rule' teaching that actually ends most aggression between students. Some anti-bully programs focus on empowering bystanders, some seek to discipline bullies, others want everyone to emotionally connect and share feelings. My program; however, focuses on the target of bullying (which is most everyone). I give them healing coping skills so that they won't fall into depression or despair.
What surprises me is how much teens desire to be told the truth. Apparently, grown ups treat them like children and are not brutally honest about life. When I speak to teens, I do so with transparency and respect. I treat them like young adults who are at a crossroads in life and they need solid advice. Either they keep living with prejudices, bitterness, and anger which will lead them to a life of unhappiness... or they become people of virtue- forgiving those who have hurt them, and choosing to love more than hate. Students resonate with this message. I tell them that THEY are responsible for their thoughts, actions, and feelings. I challenge them to avoid a victim mentality and "be the change that they want to see in the world". This type of message provokes thought that can lead to change. Here is a sample reaction from a student who wrote on my Facebook wall:
Honestly, you are one of the very few motivational speakers I've listened to that has actually tugged at my heart. I look up to you in so many ways and words can't describe how phenomenal your performance was. The feeling of lonliness gets the best of us at times, and I'm so proud of you for everything you've done and ...that you continue to do. You changed my life, and I'm pretty sure everyone in that room could feel your pain at that very moment. And that's what we needed. A taste of reality. You are simply unbelieveable, Brooks. Bless you :)
So, Brooks, you deserve a Tangled Ball Award because you're cool and this issue needs cool people to talk to teens in a way they'll want to listen.