GUEST POST by Benni Cinkle: Don’t Just Stand There, S.P.E.A.K. Up!

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As any of my friends will tell you, I’m a pretty upbeat person. I guess that’s thanks to my positive outlook on life and my tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I truly believe that most people have good intentions—even if they don’t always act from them.

But when I heard the news of the bus monitor, Karen Klein, who was bullied by a couple of seventh graders, my heart sank. I mean, seriously? You’re gonna bully someone’s grandma?

Wow.

As the story unfolded and I learned of the donations that started to pour in for Karen thanks to Max Siderov, who reported that he, too, was bullied as a child (to date, Max has raised over $600,000 through online donations for her), my spirits lifted. Something about Karen’s story had struck a chord—with a lot of people—and strangers from all over the world were expressing their concern and support for her in the only way that they knew how.

But then I heard about the death threats and abusive texts that the boys who did the bullying and their families began to receive once video of the incident went viral, and my heart sank again.

The cycle of bullying was continuing, and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

Looking back, I think one of the biggest reasons why Karen Klein’s story made such an impact is that, for many of us, it really hit home that bullying isn’t just something that happens in the halls of middle school. It’s everywhere.

And until we understand the nature of bullying and then have the courage to take a stand in our communities to make sure that it doesn’t continue, I think we’re going to see more of what happened to Karen Klein—not less.

What most people don’t know is, in a bullying situation, there are actually five roles that are being filled: that of the victim and the bully, plus the reinforcers, defenders, and bystanders. In Karen Klein’s situation, it’s easy to see who played what role. What isn’t always so easy to figure out is why the other kids on the bus (or the bus driver, for that matter) didn’t step in and do something to stop the bullying.

Since I’ve been living my life pretty much online for over a year now (more about me and my story with bullying can be found here), I’ve had a lot of time to think about bullying, including why it happens in the first place and why many of us don’t step in when we see someone being bullied.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that it all boils down to fear.

The person doing the bullying is often afraid that people will discover something about them that they’re not too proud of and make fun of them for it, so rather than let that happen, they make sure the negative spotlight is on somebody else.

And the people who stand by and let it happen? Well, they’re afraid that if they do speak up, all of that abuse (whether verbal, mental, or physical) is going to be turned on them.

And you know something? I don’t blame people who are too afraid to stand up to bullying. That takes a lot of courage. But I do think that there’s strength in numbers. And if each of us decides to have a friend’s back if we see someone being bullied and want to put an end to it, I think we’d have a fair shot at making bullying a thing of the past.

If you agree, here’s a challenge: Make a pact with your friends that you’re not going to accept bullying in your social circles — both online and in the real world. And then? Promise each other that you’ll stick up for one another if a bully decides to turn his or her anger and insecurities on one of you.

If you need it, here’s a handy acronym that I came up to help you through:

S is for Stand up for the victim

P is for Provide support

E is for End the rumors

A is for Ask for help

K is for Keep making a difference

Will it be easy to stand up to bullying by speaking out? No. But is it worth it? Heck, yeah.

So make a promise with your friends that you’re going to speak out against bullying, and then post a comment below and let me know that you did it.

Like I said, there’s strength in numbers. And if all of us take a stand for what’s right, I know we’ll be doing our part to wipe out bullying, once and for all.

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