I had the opportunity to speak at My World Conference this week in my home city of Calgary. A thousand teens gathered to hear inspirational stories of people who are making change in the world. What I am writing here in this post today is what I spoke to the students.
The day started off with Molly Burke, a 20 year old girl who became blind at age 13. She blew me out of the water with her story of resilience and strength. She spoke of hope brilliantly to the students. You need to check this girl’s story out. She is remarkable. You can hear more about her by clicking here.
In my session I asked the students this question: “What makes a youth (or anyone for that matter) resilient?” “Why do some in this life overcome incredible odds, while others flounder?” “How does Molly Burke come out golden on the other side of tragedy, while others don’t?”
These are questions that stir inside me. I’m hungry for answers. I long for all to see resilience; for none to fall through the cracks. The question is, “how”?
I told the youth my personal story of bullying when I was a teen. I was a chubby girl. Not, “I’m having a fat day” kind of chubby, but I mean CHUBBY. They called me Connie Chunk. Unfortunately I was buck toothed as well. Every day I would leave my home knowing that torment would be waiting for me at school either verbally or some days even physically. School to me was a place of fear, shame, and embarrassment. By the time I was 22, I was quite heavy and was experiencing health problems. That’s when I decided to take a hip hop class. The gym was a scary place, but dance seemed unthreatening. In dance, I found a community that was accepting, empowering, and gave me courage to face my health and weight.
However, one of the scariest experiences of my life has been going into what hip hop culture calls, “The Cypher”. Being heavier and having past experiences of bullying makes the centre of the cypher the LAST place I ever wanted to find myself. In a world of judgment, hatred, and ridicule, it’s a vulnerable place to dance on your own with a circle of eyes staring you down, yet I was surprised to find the centre of the cypher to be a game changer for me in terms of reclaiming my identity and finding out how powerful community really is.
This is where I discovered a powerful truth: “We” have the power to create identity in one another. Inside each of us is the power to either create an atmosphere around us where “we” are for one another, calling out one another’s strengths and beauty, or disabling and shaming one another to isolation, depression and hopelessness.
That’s a lot of power.
We have the ability to create resilience in one another. What if Pink Shirt Day became a historical event, rather than an annual plea to “stop bullying”? We have the capacity to make that kind of change if we understand the power of “we”. If I can lay aside my predudice of who I think you are, there is hope for this kind of change. If I can say, “I don’t get you, but I’m for you”, or “You really annoy me, but I’m for you”, to even “You may be my enemy, but I will stand for you rather than against you” – then we can see what we’re all longing for, and that is to belong and create a space for others to belong as well.
Everyone wants to belong. You do, the person sitting next to you on the train does, your parents, your peers, even those who seem to want you to fail – we all want the same thing: to belong. If we can create a change in our homes, our schools, our workplaces where everyone is welcomed and belongs we won’t only change the atmosphere, we change the culture itself.
Belonging creates resilience inside of people.
But there’s only so long someone can be resilient on their own. It’s only a matter of time before the opposition weighs more than their determination. We cannot stand for this. We were designed to be a community, to live in a state of “we”, taking care and ownership of one another’s destiny. Imagine how much further one can go with a community cheering them on? Imagine how much faster they can get there with their support system holding them through it.
The potential is limitless together. It’s absurdly simple.
Imagine we truly “saw” one another for who we really are and not who we are perceived to be?
I’ll conclude with a story. I was teaching at a Jr. High where I was faced with a difficult student who would bully and intimidate other students while i was teaching. He even tried to intimidate me. He was very tall with an attitude that was contagiously negative. During dinner that evening I was venting about this particular student to my husband. I labeled him “a jerk”. That’s when my seven year old decided to interject. He replied, “Mom, that’s not very compassionate.” BAM, that hit me hard. He was right. Later that evening while doing dishes a picture of this student popped into my mind of him as a five year old boy. Being the visual person I am, I often get pictures like this. In the picture, he was the most tenderhearted little boy. Compassion flooded my soul for this student as I reflected on who I saw him to be on the inside. The next day I decided to tell him about this picture I saw of him (awkward…) To my amazement, he wasn’t weirded out when he heard me share about my picture at all. In fact, he became the most respectful student for the remainder of my time there. It blew me out of the water.
Perhaps it’s because for the first time in a long time someone saw him for who he truly is on the inside rather than who he portrayed himself to be on the outside. Isn’t that what we all desire? To be “seen” for who we truly are?
Creating that kind of belonging for people can bring a beauty to our world like none has ever seen.
You belong. I belong. Belonging creates resilience. Let’s do whatever it takes to create that for those around us.
This is the theme for my company Mpact’s show this year, The Cypher playing at the Martha Cohen Theatre June 11-13. You can view the trailer for the show here. We’re booking schools, organizations and community groups for our matinees presently. Wed, June 11 has been sold out so we are now booking Thurs, June 12, 2014. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in bringing a group.
(Also check out our fundraiser for the show April 6 at Hotel Arts! A 90’s party! Who doesn’t love those?! For more information, click here.)