by Cassidy Lichtman, U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team outside hitter
Who do you want to be?
No, really. Stop. Actually think about what kind of person you want to be. What do you want to bring to the world? What kind of impression do you want to leave on the people you’ve touched in your life?
Maybe those feel like really deep questions, but you’re answering them every day with everything you do and every interaction you have. So it might be a good idea to think about what your answers are. Because you can tell yourself you want to be the kind of person that makes the world better, but that means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t come out in how you treat the people around you.
When I say the people around you, I mean all of them. It’s easy to be nice to people you like or those with authority over you or someone who’s higher up in the “social hierarchy."
But you know what? How you treat other people has nothing to do with who they are; it’s about who you are. So when you laugh at the unpopular girl at school or ignore the awkward kid on your team, it says nothing about them and everything about you. And it does not make you better than anyone else. Bullying never makes you cool; it just makes you a jerk.
Do you have any idea the power that you have? Every day when you get up in the morning, you have the ability to make other people’s lives better. With one word, one smile, you can brighten someone’s day and make the world a happier place. But every time you make someone feel bad about themselves, every time you judge someone for being different from you, every time you make someone feel like they are alone in this world, all you do is make the world a little bit darker.
So what do you want to do? Do you want to go to bed at night knowing that you’re responsible for a little more love and light in the world or for a little more pain? That’s the choice that you have every day and you will be remembered for that choice.
Also, there’s no middle ground here. Maybe you aren’t a bully. You don’t make fun of other people or participate in the gossip. But you don’t do anything to stop it.
I get that it’s scary to take a stand because you don’t want to end up a victim, too. So maybe you start small. Stop laughing at jokes made at someone else’s expense. Don’t ignore someone just because the kings and queens of the social hierarchy have declared them an outcast. Don’t underestimate the power of just a kind word or a smile. Start with those things and I hope that someday you will have the strength and the courage to speak up against something you know is wrong.
Most importantly, understand that you have the same choice as everyone else. You have the same power as everyone else. I know it’s hard to challenge the status quo or to go against what’s “cool." But take a moment and ask yourself: Is your fear greater than someone else’s happiness? If one word from you could make someone else feel like they’re worth something, can you really justify not saying it?
What all of the drama boils down to, if you really look at it, is that we judge people for liking different things than we do. That’s it. They like the "wrong" things. And if you ask me, that’s completely ludicrous because think about how boring and dysfunctional our world would be if those differences didn’t exist. If all anyone cared about was sports then nobody would’ve been able to design your iPhone. If we all spent our time solving equations then you’d never have found your favorite song. Maybe your interests aren’t totally aligned with someone else’s, but you can appreciate them anyway.
Because you want to know what’s really cool? Passion. Passion is what shapes the world. It’s how we break records and find new cures for diseases. All the people we look up to — great athletes, leaders, artists, celebrities and scientists — everyone who you think is really awesome has that in common. All of them have found something they loved and gone after it.
So when you make someone feel bad about the things they like, all you’re doing is depriving the world by suppressing that passion. It doesn’t matter what it is. There is nothing cooler about loving sports than math or about listening to rap over the opera. It’s not about what you’re into; it’s about finding what that is and owning it.
That’s my advice, as well, for those of you who have been on the other side and know what it feels like to be bullied. Find what you love and own it. When you do that, you’ll find other people who love it too. And all of those people who will look down on you for that? They’re just going to have to sit back and watch their world get reshaped by people like you who aren’t afraid to love what they love.
So don’t ever let anyone tell you that just being you isn’t good enough. Don’t ever let them make you feel like you aren’t worth anything or that you aren’t important. You have a purpose. You have the power to make our world better. And you have people who love you for exactly who you are. When the world gets you down and it feels like there’s nobody on your side, remember this: I think you’re awesome, for nothing other than being you. I’ll be on your side.
Don’t forget those questions we started with. It’s a good reminder for all of us to look at how we live. Be the person you actually want to be. Use your power wisely to bring more light into this world. Instead of trying to place yourself above somebody else, lift them up and you will be remembered for it. And let’s all try to love each other, and ourselves, a little better.