Nick Vujicic on the Evils of Bullying
- Thursday, April 04, 2013
One of the great joys of my life is visiting with my friend Daniel Martinez. I described in Life Without Limits how Chris and Patty Martinez of Long Beach brought their nineteen-month-old boy to a church where I was speaking in 2008. They were seated far back in the crowd, but Chris held little Daniel in the air so I could see that this precious child was born just as I was, with neither arms nor legs.
At that point Daniel was the first person I’d met who looked just like me. Talk about an emotional moment! I felt an immediate bond with the Martinez family. I couldn’t wait to meet privately with them to give them encouragement and to share my experiences. My joy was compounded when my parents arrived from Australia a few days later, and they, too, quickly bonded with Daniel, Chris, and Patty.
Since then we have stayed in touch. Daniel has proven to be even more fearless and adventurous than I was as a child. God put me in his life to give him the role model that I never had, and I feel blessed whenever we get together. So you can imagine my concern when the Martinezes told me just a few months ago that Daniel, now a first-grader, was having trouble because of bullying from schoolmates.
This upsetting news hit hard and it hit home. No matter where I travel in the world—China, Chile, Australia, India, Brazil, Canada— young people tell me stories of being bullied, ridiculed, and harassed in school, on playgrounds or buses, and increasingly online. Nearly every day we hear a new report of a young person somewhere who has committed suicide or lashed out violently after being relentlessly bullied.
When I address school groups, I am often asked to speak out against bullying and to call for an end to it. Of course, this is a very personal issue for me. Bullies targeted me often in my early school days. By middle school I had many friends, but even that didn’t stop the hurtful comments and mean-spirited teasing.
There was one particular taunter, an older kid named Andrew, who really got to me when I was thirteen by yelling something crude at me every time he saw me. There is no delicate way to describe what he would say to me. Day after day, he’d walk by me and shout out, “Nick has no —— !”
It’s typical of the crass comments some guys make to one another, and I might have been able to laugh it off if he’d only said it once. But this bloke was relentless. It was bad enough to be missing my arms and legs. Now I had this yammering dodo falsely demeaning my manhood at an age when young men are sensitive about such things. It didn’t help that sometimes a few of his friends snickered too, making me feel even worse. Most of the other kids did nothing, which also bothered me. You’d think someone would have told this jerk to shut up, but no one did, and that hurt and angered me even more.
You should never allow a bully to make you feel badly about yourself. But I know that is easier said than done. Words can hurt even if you know they are untrue and just meant to get under your skin. This is especially true when you are confronted time after time in front of your classmates and friends—and they do nothing to stop it.
I always tell people that I’m armless but not harmless. There was a bully in grade school who pushed me too far, and I bloodied his nose by hammering him with my forehead. He was bigger than I, but my high school bully was much, much bigger than I. (By the way, Andrew is not his real name. So my Aussie friends needn’t bother trying to track him down.)
Back then I was not aware of how widespread bullying was or how serious it could be. I just knew that hearing Andrew’s taunts at least once a day was tying my stomach in knots and making me a wreck. After about two weeks of this verbal abuse, Andrew and his insults were the first things I thought of upon waking each morning. I dreaded school. I found myself avoiding him, which made me late for class. I couldn’t think straight half the time. I was either worrying about running into Andrew or feeling angry and hurt about the latest taunt he had yelled out in the corridor.
Some of my older friends offered to beat him up, but I didn’t want to hurt this yahoo; I just wanted to shut him up. Finally I decided to confront him. I took the energy from my anger and fear and used it to power my wheelchair right up to him one day in the hallway after he’d shouted out his usual insult and embarrassed me once again. Andrew looked even bigger at close range. This was one of those times that I wished my wheelchair was equipped with a battering ram, or at least a power hose. Still, I could see that he was surprised at my gutsy move.
“Why do you do that?” I asked.
“Do what?” he replied.
“Why do you tease me and say that?” I asked.
“Does it offend you?”
“Yeah, it hurts me every time you say it.”
“I didn’t realize that, man. I was just kidding around. I’m sorry.”
His apology seemed genuine, so I accepted and we shook hands.
In truth, I did say, “I forgive you,” and that seemed to surprise him. He never bothered me again. I’m sure Andrew didn’t think of himself as a bully. Often, bullies don’t. They think they are just kidding or teasing or trying to be funny. Sometimes people don’t realize their words are hurtful.
But when they are being hurtful, they need to stop or be stopped.
Andrew may have been one of those people who finds it difficult relating to someone with a disability. Maybe he tried to bridge the perceived gap between normal (him) and different (me) by teasing me. Whatever his reason, Andrew was hurting me and ruining my school days with his thoughtless remarks.
Those old feelings came back and caused an ache like old wounds reopened when Daniel’s parents told me that he was being bullied in grade school. He and I are so much alike, not just physically, but temperamentally too. Daniel is a gregarious, fun-loving lad, and I knew that being bullied would steal his joy and trigger insecurities just as it had done to me.
So I offered to come to his school and talk to the students about the dangers and cruelty of bullying. The school officials rallied around the idea. They had me speak to all the classes from kindergarten through the fifth grade, and I was pleased to hear that the school staffers were doing whatever they could to help. They had Daniel speak to all the students about what he can and cannot do, how he does certain tasks, and what his life is like without arms or legs.
Daniel Day was a slam dunk. I made it clear to everyone at his school that I was Daniel’s good friend and biggest booster and that I would take it personally if anyone ever bullied him again. I told them to be cool, not cruel. Beyond that, I spoke about the dangers and cruelty of bullying from my perspective and from a global view. I also talked about the impact of bullying on the victims and ways to recognize when someone is being bullied, and I encouraged all the students to speak out and act out to stop bullying in their communities.
Millions around the world recognize the smiling face and inspirational message of Nick Vujicic. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Nick has overcome trials and hardships by focusing on the promises that he was created for a unique and specific purpose, that his life has value and is a gift to others, and that no matter the despair and hard times in life, God is always present. Nick credits his success in life to the power that is unleashed when faith takes action.
Publication date: April 4, 2013
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