By Galit Breen – Last summer I wrote an article about marriage for the Huffington Post, but instead of readers commenting on the story itself, the comments were about my body… my weight. I was devastated.
Months later, when I stepped away from my sadness, I wrote a second article calling out my cyber bullies and saying two simple things: we shouldn’t talk about other peoples’ bodies and let’s be kinder to each other online.
That article went viral and because of it, I landed a book deal for a book about how to teach our kids to be kind online. Now that it has been almost a year since everything happened, I want to share what I learned from that experience, because as difficult of an experience as it was, I learned some valuable lessons from it.
The 10 Lessons I’ve Learned
1. The Internet is kind.
Given my story it might surprise you that this is my #1 takeaway. But it’s true. The fact that the article that went viral was calling for online kindness says a lot of good things about our society.
2. When given the chance, you should always stand up and speak out for what’s right.
Whether this is in a comment thread or a private message or over lunch, speaking up for what’s right is always worth it. Absolutely nothing would have changed for me if I had chosen sadness over voice, wallowing over action.
3. Within most disagreements there’s room for both sides to be right.
When I spoke up, not everyone agreed with what I had to say. This was 100% okay. The art of disagreeing with each other is golden. It’s where real dialogue, change, and learning happen.
4. You are very rarely alone.
I felt so isolated when reading the mean comments about me even though I knew better, even though I’d supported other writers through similar circumstances. Once I spoke up, many people reached out to me with stories of solidarity. It was when I listened to them and let them become a part of my story that I felt better.
5. “The Secret” is so still a thing.
In 2006 Rhonda Byrnes wrote “The Secret,” promising that paying attention to and grasping at opportunities as they arise, makes things happen. In the past, speaking up wasn’t something I did. But in this case, I’m so very glad that I listened to the instinct to do so.
6. Kind and assertive go hand in hand.
Oftentimes women–and children, too–shy away from speaking up in favor of being perceived as nice or good. These aren’t mutually exclusive. Speaking up is not unkind. Through all of this I’ve embraced this mantra fully and repeat it to my children daily. (Sorry about that, you guys.)
7. Anne Lamott’s quote, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better” is absolute truth.
The kindness of this quote has been questioned; I was questioned for naming my cyber bullies. But I don’t regret this in the least. When we tell our bullied kids to find nicer friends and our insulted writers to not read the comments, we’re trying to fix what isn’t broken. We can all do and be better than expecting bullying as something that “just happens.” Instead, we can create a culture of kindness by expecting kindness, being surprised by bullying, and doing something about bullying when we see it.
8. There’s no such thing as bully-proofing.
One of the questions I most often get asked is “how can we balance speaking up with avoiding being targeted?” The simple answer is that we can’t. The article I was targeted in was about marriage; hardly earth-shattering stuff, right? But the good news that goes with this truth is this: this is a freedom–a gift, an invitation–to be you, to tell your truth, to own your story.
9. You shouldn’t talk about other people’s bodies.
One year ago I wrote, “I can’t tell you how body talk makes every woman feel, but I can tell you that staying away from body compliments and body bashing, body noticing and body commentary leaves room for the kinds of words that we want the women–-and the girls–in our lives to hear, to repeat, to have written to them by the typewriters in their own minds. And that, can’t hurt.” I still believe this with every fiber of my being.
10. The best life advice I have is to surround yourself with good people.
It’s said that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so we should choose wisely. I already had strong, wise, and fierce women by my side. But, wow, did I ever find more once I spoke up. And when they magnet-ed to my side saying that they believe kindness wins, too, I kept them close and was instantly better for it.
About the contributor
Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids to be kind online.
Her bylines include Brain, Child Magazine; Buzzfeed; The Huffington Post; TIME; and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle.