“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela.
Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.
For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.
That is all.
I just enjoyed a terrific visit to Virginia, three nights, visiting Matoaca Middle School and Davis Middle School. I stayed in Richmond, was treated like a conquering hero, and all I can do is express my heartfelt gratitude one more time. Thank you to three librarians, Mrs. Masters, Mrs. Green, and Miss Warshen (I hope that’s how you spell it). Most singularly: The trip would not have been possible without the near-heroic efforts of Amanda Brata — and all the teachers/administrators who decided to make Bystander a school-wide read for their students. That’s an amazing honor I don’t take lightly.
SIDENOTE: I know I’m forgetting the name of someone who took me around to classrooms on Monday, and it’s killing me. It’ll come to me, promise!
Over three days, I gave eight (fabulous) large-group presentations. I was also offered the opportunity to enjoy several brief classroom visits. One perceptive student asked about how my intentions when it came to creating the character of Griffin Connelly. It was thoughtful question that I tried to answer as best I could. The truth is, I suspect that I write better — clearer — than I talk. So while I was fumbling for an answer, I referenced this blog post about Griffin’s two-faced quality.
Here’s an excerpt of that old post.
Let’s talk about smiles . . .
I began my work on the book that would become Bystander by hanging out in the local library with a composition notebook. At the top of the first page of that notebook I see that I copied a line from Michael Connelly’s Echo Park: “What is the bad guy up to?” I was excited. After writing 30-plus Jigsaw Jones mysteries for younger readers, I finally had a bad guy. It wasn’t going to be all benign misunderstandings and well-intentioned foul-ups; here, I had a character with potential for real darkness.
I see that I was reading Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children, by Jonathan Kellerman. A powerful, disturbing book that looks at antisocial youth, from aggressive bullies to cold-hearted killers.
And right there on that first notebook page I started a list of potential “bully” characteristics. I wrote:
Smart, charismatic, charming, popular, superior, tortures animal?, trouble with police?, lights fires, COLD, raised by grandmother?, non-compliant, poor grades, not affected by discipline, causes fear, lucid, psychopathic?, free of angst, free of insecurities, (later, when caught, self-pity), preternaturally CALM.
I was in the first stages of character development — and for me, I’m at my best when character evolves into story, as opposed to plugging character into plot. That is: character first. With my focus exclusively on this “bad guy,” I even came up with a potential book title: Predator.
It became important to me that my main antagonist, Griffin Connelly, was divorced from the bully stereotypes we often see in books and movies. You know, the bully as gross coward, unlikeable lug, dim-witted brute, dirty, ugly, unpopular. It simply wasn’t realistic, and by turning bullies into one-dimensional characters, we surrendered much of the complexity (and difficulty) of the topic (and story).
A quick plea: There’s a tendency to slot any topical book, such as this, into the bibliotherapy shelf. But Bystander is a story, a page-turner with thriller elements that a biased Jean Feiwel called, “Unputdownable.” It’s not a thesis paper. It’s a good, fast read. I hope boys find it.
Whew. I see that I’m letting this post get away from me, because I’m trying to talk about too much. So I’ll get specific:
I wanted Griffin Connelly to be a great-looking kid, with charm and verbal dexterity and a great smile. He would be, in every sense of the word, attractive. All the surfaces would shine. The ugliness concealed.
His smile was one of the keys to his character. But what is a smile if not a baring of teeth? The smile beams beatifically, but also represents a flashing of fangs. A threat. The wolfish grin. There’s menace under the surface.
Griffin Connelly was the kind of person who would smile at you while he stuck a knife in your back. And maybe, for pleasure, gave the blade a twist. The toothy smile was the mask he wore, this master of the mixed message.
Page 7, when Eric first meets Griffin:
The shaggy-haired boy in the lead pulled up right in the middle of the court, halfway between the foul line and the basket. He stayed on his bicycle seat, balanced on one leg, cool as a breeze. The boy looked at Eric. And Eric watched him look.
His hair fell around his eyes and below his ears, wavy and uncombed. He had soft features with thick lips and long eyelashes. The boy appeared to be around Eric’s age, maybe a year older, and looked, well, pretty. It was the word that leaped into Eric’s mind, and for no other reason than because it was true.
Some random examples now . . .
Words came easily to Griffin, his smile was bright and winning.
Griffin flashed a smile, that hundred-dollar smile he could turn on in an instant. He reached out his fist. “Are we cool, buddy
“Mrs. Chavez!” Griffin exclaimed, smiling cheerfully. “Please let me help you with that . . .”
There was no way Eric could tell Griffin Connelly that story. So he told bits and pieces and white lies. Eric wondered if Griffin sensed it, the whole truth, if somehow Griffin already knew, saw into Eric’s secret heart and smiled.
“You want to hang out, don’t you?” Griffin asked. He smiled, put an arm around Hallenback’s shoulder.
Griffin winked at Eric. Then gave that big Hollywood smile, and swept the hair from his eyes.
“What are you going to do? Punch me?” Griffin taunted, grinning.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Eric,” Griffin said. His smile was like a pure beam of distilled sunlight. His long lashes blinked, his cheeks pinkened. He wore a perfect mask of kindness and light.
Griffin smiled wide, folded his hands together, and said in a soft voice, “We’ll see about that.”
Griffin grinned through the insults.
Presented in this way, it may seem a little much. But in the context of the story, I suspect it’s unnoticed. The accumulated effect, I hope, is creepiness. Here’s a guy you can’t trust. Every threat comes with a smile. White teeth gleaming in the sunlight, fangs bared.
“My Grandma, what big teeth you’ve got?”
Don’t let that smile fool you.
I was recently invited for an interview by Brittney Breakey over at AUTHOR TURF. Brittney has really accomplished a lot with her site. It’s worth checking out. She’s recently interviewed Holly Goldberg Sloan, Sally Nicholls, Gennifer Choldenko, Jo Knowles, Kathryn Erskine . . . and my great pal, Lewis Buzbee.
For me, that’s a double-edged sword. I’ll be honest, I’ve always hoped to be the kind of person who somebody wanted to interview. It’s an incredible compliment. And a true honor.
In my career, some of the first work I ever did was interviews of authors for promotional brochures. I think Ann McGovern was my first interview, back when I worked as a junior copywriter for Scholastic. Or it might have been Johanna Hurwitz. I don’t think I saved them. This would have been in 1985, I guess. Life went on and I’ve interviewed some talented authors and illustrators over the years.
You’d think I’d have learned some things along the line, but my basic feeling is usually one of disorientation, a sense that I have no idea what I’m doing, most likely saying the wrong things, awkwardly. Oh well.
I do have lucid moments, times when I think, “Okay, not terrible.” But in general I can’t read things like this without wincing, without twitching and blinking too often. I don’t know, it’s weird. I try to be honest, authentic, and hope for the best.
Below, you’ll find a brief excerpt of a much longer interview. Click here for the whole shebang.
What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?
It’s interesting you ask this, because I recently wrote about it in my journal. A theme that I’m exploring in the book I currently writing (or should be writing), which is a quasi-sequel to BYSTANDER. I have superstitions about talking about books before they are finished, but I’ll say this: In the summer between 7th and 8th grade, a girl in my homeroom died unexpectedly. I didn’t know her well, and wouldn’t call her a friend. When I first heard about Barbara’s death, I was with a bunch of friends –- I can picture it vividly, a bunch of us lounging around — and I said something dumb, snarky, immature. Of course, the death of a peer was completely new to me, a big deal, and I didn’t know how to react. I still feel a sense of shame about it, across these forty years, that one dumb thing I said that no one else even noticed. I’ve been reflecting a lot about identity lately, the idea of self not as a revelation, but as a made thing. Something you earn. Bryan Stevenson gave an incredible presentation for TED Talks -– everyone in America should Youtube it -– and he said, “I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” That’s a huge, complicated, controversial idea –- and it speaks directly to the topic of my next book. [NOTE: I've embedded Stevenson's talk, below.]
Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?
Yes, I’ve wanted to quit. Absolutely. Mostly because it’s hard, and because I’ve felt (and still feel, though less so) insecure about my own ability –- that I was a pretender, a self-deceiver, a fake. Also, it’s a bunny-eat-bunny business that can crush your soul at times. As a husband and father, I’ve worried about my ability to provide for my family, to keep paying the bills. But that’s life, right? You have to keep getting up. You can’t just lie there on the canvas. That said: Every day I feel blessed that I can do this for a living. The hard is what makes the good.
What’s your favorite writing quote?
It’s not a quote, so much as an attitude about doing the work, a sort of blue collar distrust of pretentiousness. In a phrase, shut up, sit down, and write. Or not! But either way, shut up. It’s hard, writers are told that we need to promote ourselves, we need to “have a presence” on the web, we need to “get out there.” And I just keep thinking, we need to write great books. That’s all that matters.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?
The whole thing is a challenge. One thing about having published a bunch of things over a long period of time is that I’ve come to understand that each book is its own, self-contained thing. You write the story that’s in front of you. Then you write the next one. And the next. You don’t control what happens after that and, on good days, you accept that plain fact.
Here we go, folks. It’s time for Fan Mail Wednesday — and it’s actually Wednesday, a first for the entire staff here at Jamespreller.com!
I’m reaching into the big box of letters . . . ah, here’s one from Seth in Iowa!
Dear James Preller,
Hello, my name is Seth. I am a fourth grade student in Iowa. Our class is writing letters to our favorite authors. I chose you. You write Scary Tales. What do you do when you get stuck? Also, what book are you writing now? Here are some suggestions; Scary Tales: Slenderman’s Eye because it is really scary. My favorite book is Good Night Zombie. It is captivating! You keep me into the book and the characters. I liked your book because it’s scary and fun to read. What book did you make and like the most? I obviously like GOOD NIGHT ZOMBIE!!! It’s really scary. You also give me courage to read your books. You give me the chills when I read the books. You inspire me to read and write. Thank you for writing stuff like scary books!
I met Donalyn Miller at a Literacy Conference in Ohio. She was the keynote speaker and I came away impressed, inspired, and determined to read her book, THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.
I started reading it yesterday, frustrated over my own 9th-grade son’s brutal, book-hating experience in advanced, 9th-grade English.
I underlined this passage from Donalyn’s book, page 18:
Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters — the saints and sinners, real or imagined — reading shows you how to be a better human being.
The book is filled with passages that make you want to stand up and cheer.
Anyway, this morning Donalyn Miller shared her enthusiasm over this fun bit of pop culture stardom:
Good for Donalyn Miller, good for Jeopardy.
It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s a real touchstone in America today. An undeniable sign that you’ve arrived and made your mark. You become a clue on Jeopardy!
Donalyn is also a founding member of the Nerdy Book Club, which you should definitely follow. Seriously, I insist.
“All of my books are based on an adult emotion that connects
with a similar emotion that I had as a child. I like each of my books
for a different reason, because each comes out of a different emotion.
If a book succeeds in bringing an emotion into focus,
then I like that book very much.” – Charlotte Zolotow.
“Emeralds,’ said the rabbit.
‘Emeralds make a lovely gift.”
― Charlotte Zolotow, from Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present.
And so in this sad week another one of my favorite children’s book writers has passed, the great Charlotte Zolotow, whom I’ve admired so much and for so long. I’ve written about Charlotte a few times over the course of this blog. Here’s a past entry from 3 1/2 years ago . . .
“William wanted a doll.”
And so begins Charlotte Zolotow’s classic picture book, William’s Doll, illustrated by William Pene Du Bois. Published 38 years ago, and dedicated to Billy and Nancy, it is still relevant today — and very possibly moreso.
This title has been on my mind a lot lately, and comes to mind whenever the discussion turns to “books for boys.” Somehow the collective thinking about boys and reading has become muddled, to the point where “boys” has become a code word for “reluctant readers.”
I’ve talked about this before, here and here and here and elsewhere, and I don’t wish to repeat myself endlessly. Except to paraphrase Walt Whitman: Boys are large and contain multitudes. I find it unsettling, even disturbing, when I come across lists of “books for boys” that offer all the usual standbys: bodily humor, nonstop action, cars and trucks, sports, violence, and so on. You know, the kinds of stuff all boys like.
Imagine such a list for girls. Would it offend you?
And now imagine all the great books, and important thoughts, that would be missing from such a list. Because the nature of such lists is reductionist and simplistic and full of stereotypes, a narrowing of what children are and what children can become. Girls and boys.
Yes, for sure, I am strongly on the side of a teacher or parent who longs to turn a reluctant reader onto books. I can understand the desire for something sure-fire, a book that will turn the trick, unlock the door, open up the world of reading. But once that door has been pushed open, let’s not forget that boys can be sensitive, thoughtful, dreamy, mild, frightened, lonely, tender, loving, sad, and a thousand more things. It’s not just farts and firetrucks.
When my oldest son, Nick, was sick with leukemia, we struggled as parents. It was tempting to give him things, do things for him, make the experience easier and more enjoyable. In short: spoil him. After a spinal tap, how do you not buy that kid a lollipop? And a DVD of whatever he wants. So we did. But not always. My wife Lisa once said one of the most profound things about parenting I ever heard. Talking about this subject, she reminded me: “We’re not only trying to take care of a sick boy — we’re trying to raise a healthy adult.”
I think that applies to boys and reading.
So let’s look at this book, William’s Doll. To me, the best illustration is on the first page, before even the title page. You know, the page we hurry past on our way to the story. It’s a picture, we will learn, of William and Nancy from next door. Nancy is holding a doll. But if you glance quickly at that illustration, look at it from a distance, it is a portrait of every young family in the world. Father, mother, and child.
“He wanted to hug it
and cradle it in his arms
and give it a bottle
and take it to the park
and push it in the swing
and bring it back home
and undress it
and put it to bed . . .”
His brother and the boy next door did not approve.
William’s father brought home a basketball instead.
He practiced a lot
and got good at it
but it had nothing to do
with a doll.
William still wanted one.
So his father brought home an electric train. With similar results.
One day his grandmother visited. William proudly showed her the basketball and his new train. He also expressed his desire for a doll, explaining, “My brother says it will make me a creep and the boy next door says I’m a sissy and my father brings me other things instead.”
His grandmother listened attentively.
“Nonsense,” she said.
She bought him a doll. I love the detail in this description, the clicking of the eyes. It reminds me of my mother’s Shirley Temple doll (not that I ever played with it!).
The doll had blue eyes
and when they closed
they made a clicking sound
and William loved it
William’s father was upset. “He’s a boy!” he said.
And so the grandmother must patiently explain to her son:
“He needs it,” she said,
and to cradle
and to take to the park
when he’s a father
he’ll know how to
take care of his baby
and feed him
and love him
and bring him
the things he wants,
like a doll
so that he can
I highly doubt you’ll find this book on a list of “books for boys.” It’s probably too sissyish. No, instead we’ll give them books about trains and basketball.
ENDNOTE: A song based on the story, with lyrics by Mary Rodgers and music by Sheldon Harnick, was included in the bestselling album, “Free to Be . . . You and Me.” In 1974, it was turned into a television special. According to producer Marlo Thomas, ABC fought to have the song dropped from the show. She recalled: “They wanted William’s Doll cut, because it would turn every boy into a homosexual.”
True to her ideals, and (importantly) armed with enough marketable power to win this battle, Ms. Thomas refused to comply, and the song remained. Somehow civilization was not destroyed — by this show, at least.
Click here for more on the sources of Charlotte Zolotow’s inspiration for this story, which was based on personal experience as a mother and wife. Commented Zolotow: “I wrote it out of direct emotional sorrow.”
“I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value
if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two.
It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time,
giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”
– Barbara Park (1947-2013)
I was surprised and saddened to read that Barbara Park passed away on November 15th at the young age of 66. I never met Barbara in person, but I certainly got a strong sense of Barbara through her books. Every reader knows and feels this experience. When we read the best books, when we feel that electric connection, there is a communion that endures beyond time and space and even death.
In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than a hundred authors and illustrators. One of them was Barbara Park, who was genuine in every way. We spoke sometime in the late ’90s, and a bunch of those interviews were later compiled in a Scholastic Professional Book called, rather klunkily: The Big Book of Picture-Book Authors & Illustrators.
Good luck finding it. The book is long out of print (big sigh), but there are treasures within. It’s worth seeking out on eBay or wherever. I seriously wish I could write another someday.
I enjoyed memorable, lively conversations with so many great artists. A few of my favorites were Molly Bang, Aliki Brandenberg, Ashley Bryan, Barbara Cooney, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Karla Kuskin, James Marshall, Bill Martin, Patricia Polacco, Jack Prelutsky, Faith Ringgold, Lane Smith, Peter Spier, Bernard Waber, Vera B. Williams, Charlotte Zolotow . . . and, of course, Barbara Park.
Barbara was warm, and kind, and modest, and funny, and absolutely genuine, just as you’d expect.
Here’s what ended up in the book, which was intended to be shared with students:
Best-selling author Barbara Park did not take the usual path to becoming a writer. “As a kid, I didn’t even read much,” Barbara confesses. “I bought books from the school book club because I liked the smell of them. It was nice to have this pile of new books. But I really had no great desire to read them!”
Barbara was a lively, active child with a motormouth and a sharp sense of humor. She had a great many interests, but writing was not one of them. “To me, writing was an assignment, period. I was no particularly imaginative. I didn’t sit around and make up stories to entertain my friends. But I was always the class clown. In high school I was voted ‘Wittiest,’ which, let’s be honest, is just a nice way of saying ‘Goofy!’”
It wasn’t until after college, marriage, and the birth of two children, that Barbara began to think seriously about writing. “I wanted to see if I could put my sense of humor to work. Because, sad to say, it was the only thing for which I’d ever got any recognition. I thought, Maybe I can write funny.”
Working at home while her two boys were in school, Barbara concentrated on books for middle-grade readers. Barbara lists The Kid in the Red Jacket, My Mother Got Married (and Other Disasters), and Mike Harte Was Here as personal favorites. She considers her best work to be Mike Harte Was Here. Many readers agree. In a stunning achievement, Barbara addresses a boy’s tragic, accidental death with writing that is at once deeply heartfelt and — amazingly — joyously funny.
In all of her books, no matter the seriousness of the theme, Barbara’s humor spontaneously bubbles to the surface. In fact, Barbara has made something of a career out of focusing on funny, irreverent, wisecracking kids who, like her, just can’t walk away from a punch line.
Though Barbara’s books are moral in the truest sense of the word, she steers clear of heavy messages and “life lessons.” Says Barbara, “I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time, giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”
In the early 1990s, Barbara was approached by Random House with the idea of writing a series for younger readers. It scared her half to death. Barbara admits, “There was some question as to whether or not my dry sense of humor would be picked up by younger kids.”
In the end Barbara decided that she’d have to write to please herself, to be true to her own sensibilities. “I can’t change my sense of humor,” Barbara explains. “If I did, it wouldn’t even be me trying to write this book. It would be me trying to write like somebody who didn’t think like me!”
Barbara soon created the irrepressible character Junie B. Jones. This best-selling children’s character, who often said and did all the wrong things, elbowed her way into the spotlight. Barbara didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “Junie B. is me in an exaggerated form,” Barbara admits. “I think the core of most of my characters is me. I mean, where else is it going to come from? It’s got to be from you.”
Though Junie B. is in kindergarten (with a move to first grade coming soon), Barbara has an uncanny knack for inhabiting her world. She says, “I’ve never had a problem becoming five years old in my head. I really think that you basically stay the same person all your life. I fell the essence of me hasn’t changed.”
Junie B. is by no means perfect. She acts out in class, she’s not always respectful, and she tends to massacre the English language whenever she opens her mouth (which is often). An ideal role model? Forget about it. Junie B. is much more than that — with her foibles and mistakes, she is as genuine as her readers. Junie B. is a pretty terrific kid doing her best to get it right — and happily succeeding most of the time.
Note: This was first posted over at The Nerdy Book Club, a great sight for fans of children’s books. Recommended.
EVERYBODY ELSE IS ALREADY TAKEN
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
After I wrote the book BYSTANDER (Macmillan, 2009), I began to receive invitations to speak at middle schools. I was wary at first of being perceived as anybody’s “anti-bullying program.”
I wrote a book. Not a pamphlet, not a list of discussion questions, not a nonfiction guide to bullying. I could not offer a handy list of ten ways to make your school a bully-proof zone. I didn’t even believe in it.
I wrote a story –- that was the tool at my disposal.
Stories are essential to our lives. How could we live without them? We watch television, go to movies, tell tales to our friends and neighbors, conjure dreams at night, play complex video games, read books. Humans are storytelling creatures. We seem to need stories. Something inside us craves stories, we hunger for them, ravenous.
Why is that?
Stories function differently than nonfiction. The characters have a way of worming inside our souls. Robert McKee, in his book, STORY, claims that “Stories are equipment for living.”
Equipment for living.
Our lives race past us, a frantic blur, and we move from the next thing, to the next, to the next, with barely a moment’s reflection.
Stories give us pause. They give our lives form and shape. And time. We turn a page. We consider. We piece together the meaning of our days through the stories we hear.
And we ask of these stories the same question, over and over again: What is a good life? How are we to conduct ourselves here on this earth?
Well-told stories, as Harper Lee so beautifully demonstrated in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, allow us to walk in someone’s else’s shoes. Remember that remarkable scene at the end of the book? When Scout walks Boo Radley home, climbs up to his porch, and for a moment turns and looks at the world from his perspective?
Scout concluded: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”
It’s also called empathy, understanding, compassion.
Here’s McKee again: “A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling.”
Story isn’t an escape from reality. It is a light that shines upon the dark corners of our world, the secret places, the hidden fears and hopes and dreams.
It is why books matter, and why, I now know, some teachers have embraced BYSTANDER –- among other novels — as a way to explore this complex topic.
I’ve stood on a stage in auditoriums in front of 500, 600, 700 middle school-age children. Or as they refer to them in Ireland, “young people.” I like that. Young people. So much more intrinsically respectful than kids, little lambs eat ivy.
Despite my experience visiting places like Oklahoma and South Carolina, Illinois and Connecticut, Florida and Michigan, I’m still in the process of learning how to talk about bullying. Still growing into my own shoes. Still learning to speak above a whisper.
One of the central ideas embedded in the book – an idea I came to understand only through the passage of time – also happens to be one that’s incredibly difficult for me to directly convey to middle school students. So I don’t try to tell it, per say, so much as hope it leaks out over everything, like sunlight through the edges of a drawn blind. But I think it’s worth saying to you, here.
Research shows that bullying peaks in middle school. Why is that?
Let’s recall Emerson’s quote from up top, and agree that one of the greatest achievements in life is to become, simply, one’s true self. It sounds easy enough, but as we know, it is not. I’m a father, I have three children, including a 7th-grader and a 9th-grader. I watch their awkwardness and insecurities and struggles.
To be content in your own skin.
To not look to others for your cues.
To accept and trust who you are, to follow your own inner compass.
These are not easy things.
At no time in life is it tougher than in middle school, when peers begin to replace parents as prime influencers. How to dress, what to talk about, what to watch on television, how to act, where to sit, whom to befriend, whom to avoid. This is how we forge identity, hammering out our awareness of self (which is a created thing after all, the “self” we decide to become). At middle school, many of these daily details are powerfully influenced by the pack.
Yet a primary aspect to becoming a true individual is the casting off of those concerns. It’s a challenge for anybody to stand up against the crowd. For a middle schooler, it’s close to impossible. On a deep level, in terms of self-identity, they see themselves as the group. The group is them, the individual swallowed by the great whale. And we are all Pinocchio, trapped inside the dark belly, fumbling for a light, yearning to become a real boy.
This dynamic is how young people find their place in the world. We watch others to learn about ourselves. We tell stories. We listen. And then when it comes to bullying, the adults in their lives tell these young people to not worry what anybody else thinks.
“Who cares what anyone thinks!”
Well, they care. They care so much.
In my heart, I believe the lasting answer to bullying is to become a genuine, authentic, free-thinking, responsible individual. The best definition of responsibility I’ve heard is “the ability to respond,” to act according to the courage of your convictions.
People are good, I absolutely believe that. And the closer people hone into to their true selves, the better and more moral they become.
Be yourself. In doing so, we all become far more likely to allow others the freedom to be their selves.
Shakespeare: “This above all: To thine own self be true!”
Or, if you prefer, Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”