Brooks Gibbs will be the first to admit he felt like a loser in school.
He was short, skinny, allergic "to everything," and severely asthmatic.
"I would get asthma attacks playing Nintendo, that's how unhealthy I was," Gibbs told an audience of sixth-graders Tuesday. "I felt like such a loser, and all the kids knew it. They would always make fun of me, and I would always get upset."
Gibbs is now a youth motivational speaker, who visits schools across the country to describe his story of being a victim and how he learned to deal with bullies. The youth crisis counselor also is the creator of the Kalman Bullying Prevention Program and author of the anti-bullying handbook, "Love is Greater Than Hate."
The speaker visited Pilgrim Park Middle School and spoke in two assemblies with students from grades six to eight as part of a national $1 million anti-bullying campaign from The Office Depot in partnership with British boy-band One Direction.
Gibbs struggled with bullies all his life, he said.
"Throughout elementary grades and all throughout middle school, I lived a very unhappy life because (bullies) would make fun of me. I would get upset, and they loved it," Gibbs said. "The one goal bullies have is to hurt your feelings; they'll feel like winners because they hurt your feelings, and you feel like a loser because your feelings are hurt."
And that's where resilience breaks the cycle of bullying, he said. Throughout his presentation, Gibbs explained the "law of reciprocity," where individuals display the same attitude presented to them.
If someone is nice to you, you'll be nice in return. Or, in the case of antagonizing bullies, you'll project the anger right back.
"Here's what I didn't realize (at the time): The very reason why they were bullying me so much was because I always got upset," Brooks told the audience. "If I would have stopped getting upset, they would have left me alone.
"...We have to stop taking the hateful, negative remarks people make personally."
Instead of getting upset with bullies, one should "kill them with kindness" by obeying the Golden Rule, Gibbs recommended.
"Being kind to your enemy, (and) sharing goodness and love to them — even if they don't deserve it — is the only force powerful enough to get them to leave you alone," he said.
As the sixth-grade assembly concluded, Pilgrim Park Principal Mike Sereno reminded students to seek an adult for help when problems arise.
Although the sixth-grade class had done an excellent job of following the school's culture of respect and integrity, "that doesn't mean we haven't ever had issues with bullies and it doesn't mean you won't ever come across a bully outside of school," Sereno said. "So we want to make sure you always feel comfortable seeking out help from an adult."
Changing the victim
Although Gibbs did not address mass shootings in his presentation designed for young children, he did touch upon the issue between assemblies. In light of the recent school shooting in Nevada — and all school shootings that preceded it — Gibbs said he believes school anti-bullying programs are not working.
Aside from his work as a youth crisis counselor, Gibbs is all too familiar with the tragedies of school shootings; he grew up in Littleton, Colo., the home of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
"Every time there's a suicide (influenced by bullying), the media jumps all over it and creates hysteria, which freaks the parents out and puts pressure on lawmakers to pass laws and everyone wants to take a legal approach to punish bullies," Gibbs said. "It's easy to say for homicide that we have to keep guns out of the wrong hands and bolster security, but (it doesn't address) social drama — name calling, bullying — as a subjective problem of a kid's feelings getting hurt."
Gibbs cited a 2013 report conducted by the University of Texas at Arlington, which found schools with anti-bullying programs were more likely to have bullying than schools without them.
"More kids are being bullied and more kids are killing themselves during the time we've been fighting bullies," Gibbs said. "The worst acts of violence are done by people who feel like victims, so what we need to do is help them not feel like a victim anymore. ...Everyone in the anti-bullying industry is trying to change the world around the victim. I'm trying to change the victim."
Gibbs said he accomplishes this change by encouraging students to remain resilient when faced with bullies and to spread love to everyone.
"My message is this: Take responsibility for your own feelings, (because) you can handle this. You don't have to have government rescue you. You can be resilient," Gibbs said. "You must be resilient if you want to be happy in life."
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