Stand Up ND:Speaking From the Heart to Prevent Bullying
Kindness, respect and empathy. Kids hear these words and know they’re the keys to getting along well with others. But they don’t always know how to put those words into practice. Houston Kraft is a motivational speaker who tells personal stories to get teens to think about how they treat others. Meg Luther lindholm met him in Bismarck and has this report for the Stand Up ND project.
HK: I believe that no matter where you go in the world you’re not always going to be in a situation where everyone is like “we get along.” We wish that would be perfect. But in a school of 6-700 there will be kids who annoy you, who bug you, who have done mean things to you. The question is can you love them in return?
Houston Kraft is a 20-something guy on a mission. He wants teens to be kinder to each other. Not in a touchy-feely, kumbaya sort of way, but in small ways that he says can have lasting impact. Most kids understand that kindness matters—it’s a point that gets reinforced at school for many kids on a daily basis. But, Kraft says, there’s often a gap between understanding and practice.
HK: I think part of the problem is that these things become white noise for kids. You know, maybe they hear it so much--be kind, commitment to excellence--they’re mottos; kids take them at face value.
Part of the reason kids may end up teasing, gossiping or being mean boils down to a simple four-letter word: FEAR. Kraft says that fear is often what dampens kindness. It could be fear of rejection, fear of being seen as stupid, fear of not having the right clothes or fear of fill in the blank. Fear is a universal emotion that kicks in, well, pretty much the moment we’re born.
HK: Before we’re even born, we’re in a very nice place, right? There’s safety, comfort, no one to bother us. Then we’re born and things get complicated really quickly.
We have to learn to walk without falling, we bump into things. Then when we get older we have to learn to navigate the social landscape and deal with a huge mix of emotions. It’s not easy.
HK: So part of what I love to do is say life is scary. Now what?
As a boy, Kraft had plenty of his own fears. He was shorter than the other boys. He tried to score social points with his humor which he sometimes turned against others. One day a new girl showed up at school.
HK: And the best way you could describe her was as an easy target. She didn’t have nicest clothes, dirty hair, lisp… For one of the first times I had a chance to make myself feel better by making someone else feel worse.
Kraft says he has often wondered what became of the girl. The hurt he caused her turned into a wakeup call to treat people better. He got another wakeup call from a high school teacher.
HK: In 10th grade I was told I could change the world. It was a Wednesday afternoon after 3rd period health class was over when my teacher Mr. Ibili, a Croatian man with a big nose and an even bigger heart, walked up to me and he said, “Hey, Houston, have you ever thought about joining student leadership?” I said, “Aaaaah, no.” He said, “Well, I think you should. I think you’d – be - good - at - it.” Those 7 words changed my life…
HK: A lot of times with students, I’ll count out those words – I think you’d be good at it. 7 words. 7 words of encouragement. Simple. The offer to be something bigger than me. I think it’s important to remember that a lot of us have those simple moments in our life that are transformative or the start of something perhaps bigger. And I tell students that I can trace why I’m speaking at their school today or this conference today goes back to that moment.
Kraft says children should be encouraged to practice kindness the way they practice an instrument or a sport—consistently and with specific goals. Like getting to know the lunchroom ladies by name and paying them a compliment. Or throwing a birthday party for someone you don’t know very well. Or writing a letter to someone you’ve argued with and saying what you like about them. Not easy. But Kraft says it gets easier over time. Like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. And many other lives may be transformed in the process.
For Prairie Public and the Stand Up ND project, I’m Meg Luther Lindholm. You can hear a longer interview with Houston Kraft on Main Street later today. And you can find this story on the Public NewsRoom page of the Prairie Public website.