In a lecture hall that could seat almost 100, two parents showed up.
“It’s almost always like this,” noted Traci Younts of the Beeville Independent School District’s Afterschool Centers on Education.
However sparse the interest, the need for parents and students to learn how to cope with bullying is paramount, Gibbs says.
“Every day, 160,000 students skip school in this country because of bullying.”
He is a youth crisis counselor and president of the Detroit-based Kalman Research Institute for Bullying Prevention. In addition, he is the national spokesman for the Office Depot Foundation’s “Be the Difference, Speak Up Against Bullying.”
As a youngster, Gibbs — short, unathletic (“I’d get winded trying to speed read.”), asthmatic and with a speech impediment — was a prime target for bullying.
This year, he is visiting 300 schools nationwide to help parents and their children deal with bullying, thanks to a $1 million Office Depot sponsorship.
His answer is as simple as it is practical.
“When I was in the eighth grade,” he says, contemplating suicide after a lifetime of being bullied, “I discovered the Golden Rule. Some version of it is used by every religion in the world to counter bullying, how to treat mean people.”
He cites six examples:
Hinduism: One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.
Zoroastrianism: Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do to others.
Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains.
Confucianism: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.
Judaism: Love they neighbor as thyself.
Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“I was stunned to discover this singular shared thread,” Gibbs writes in What Drives Me, a forthcoming book.
He relates his first use of the rule when, on his first day at high school, he was confronted by a bully named “Stuff.”
In his book, he listed his options: To rise it out and live to survive one more day, to seek help from an adult, to stuff his anger inside “the red-hot volcano surging inside me,” to skip school, to transfer to another school, or “to do something else, something new, something that would draw a line in the sand and change my life.
“I was driven to be kind to him.”
“And the result? Supernatural, shocking.”
Citing what psychologists call the Law of Reciprocity, Gibbs says the bully was not prepared for Gibbs to treat him with kindness.
“Encountering a bully is not the end of the world,” Gibbs says. “It’s an opportunity to be resilient.”
At the Monday session, he asked a volunteer to play the part of a bully.
First, he matched each insult with one of his own. Even though it was play acting, the tension rose with each retort.
Then he asked the volunteer to start again, but this time responded with kindness, even flattery.
The difference was immediate.
“When you love your enemies,” he says, “it puts you in control.”
Following his presentation to parents, on Tuesday he spoke to students at both Thomas Jefferson Intermediate School and Moreno Middle School.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.