A Lion's Heart
Updated: Dec 3, 2018
"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Most likely when you think of a lion you think of a strong, capable animal- the king of the jungle, the one that holds the power. When we say someone is "like a lion" or for someone to "be like a lion" we mean for them to be the kind of person who possesses lion-like qualities. Someone who is courageous, not only in the pursuit of their own good, but in the protection of another's. Someone who would sacrifice the balance of their own life for the stability of those around them. Someone who stands up for the weak- even if they stand alone. The type of person who does more than they're asked to, but expects nothing in return because they could care less about recognition or praise. Someone who doesn't have to tell you they're a lion because their actions say it for them.
While abroad, I have met several people who exemplify these qualities and who have restored my hope that people are good. In a large crowd I have found that, more likely than not, there will always somehow be individuals who get left out- maybe intentionally or unintentionally, but some way or another they just don't quite make the cut. This being said, I have also witnessed lion-hearted individuals making an effort to reduce this tendency. The type of people who remind me of the good in the world and who give me hope that people can be great.
For those of you who are aware of my family's story, you may know some of the details I am about to describe below, but for those of you who don't know, you may want to pause here and visit www.gregschallenge.org for a little background information before you continue reading.
When my older brother Greg was a senior in high school, he was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease called Metachromatic Leukodystrophy. Prior to his diagnosis, he had been performing poorly in school, his athletic abilities declined, and he lost many of his “friends” as he failed to fit in with the rest of his peers. Unfortunately, there was a series of time from his eighth grade year until the end of his high school years where he was severely bullied by the people around him. Bullying in the form of physical abuse: getting punched and shoved into lockers daily and thrown off of benches in the locker rooms. Verbal abuse: being called names and words I can't even type because they are that disgusting and cruel. And many other horrid acts including having his books spit on and thrown into trashcans, just because a couple of jerks thought it would be funny. Within three years, he had transferred to three separate schools (two public and one private) where the bullying continued. He met with several counselors, suffered from extreme depression, and reached the point where he felt completely worthless, helpless, and suicidal.
I like to believe that the kids that had treated him so poorly were mentally disturbed or had some sort of chemical imbalance or were possessed by demons- something that gives their actions justification- but what it really comes down to is that they lacked basic human decency. They failed to be kind, compassionate, considerate, understanding, or empathetic- they failed to be a good friend, a good brother, a good sister, a good son, a good daughter, a good human. I also like to believe that had they been aware of Greg's medical condition or the fact that Greg's doctors had given him four years to live, they would have been a little more understanding and empathetic towards him. Knowing his condition now, I would like to believe that one of them would have reached out and apologized for their actions, but that too has yet to happen.
I think people (especially kids) fail to recognize the impact that their words have on others. How constant belittlement can lead someone into actually believing they are worthless or less valuable in comparison to others. How the act of leaving someone out, or not including them, can make them feel like a lonely, unwanted outsider. How words and actions have the power to both build someone up and yet, just as easily, destroy their confidence and self-concept. I don't know why bullying happens or why people do or say unkind things, but what I do know is that kindness is one of the most underrated traits in the world. I do know that you should be kind and understanding of everyone you meet no matter how much you don't get along with, or don't like them. How you treat others says less about the other person and everything about who you are.
As I've grown up and traveled the world, I wish I could say that I see less instances of cruelty and more instances of kindness, but that hasn't always been the case. I've seen people be intentionally singled out, heard unkind words be said about someone both to their face and behind their back, and felt the sadness and brokenness of individuals merely seeking a friend or someone to talk to. Every time I am faced with a situation such as one mentioned above or in the presence of gossip or uninteresting, small minded behavior- I either speak up or remove myself from the situation. If there is one thing that I can stress more than anything in this world it is that you need to be the kind of person who makes everybody feel like a somebody. Regardless of circumstances, locations, situations- whatever the case may be- you are expected to be the better human. If it comes down to being cool or being kind, my God do I pray you choose, without hesitation, to be kind. Kind. Is. Cool.
I want to share with you all letter that I received from a classmate on June 10th, 2016 a day or two after my high school graduation.
I didn't include this screenshot in an attempt to receive recognition or to prove that I did some good in my life (I've actually only shown this letter to maybe four people- two of which were my parents and two of which I showed a few months ago), but because prior to receiving this email at 2:32pm on a Friday, I had no idea that I had made such a large impact on someone's life by doing absolutely nothing except being kind to them. I wanted to include this screenshot because it is the perfect example of why you should be more observant of those around you and why you should take the initiative to be kind and compassionate and understanding of every person you meet. I'm sure you've heard the quote "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about," and its true. We're all just trying to get through life the best we can. Life is hard enough on its own, you don't need to make it even harder for someone. Choose understanding, choose empathy, choose kindness.
There are so many people who remained bystanders in Greg's situation. Maybe they wanted to speak up, but were too scared to or maybe they felt it wasn't their place to take a stance... whatever the case may be, they couldn't find the courage to stand up for him. I hope that if you are ever in a situation like this, you can find yours and you can make a difference. I hope you choose to be there for someone and I hope someone writes you a letter thanking you for saving their life.
Even with all those who remained indifferent towards Greg's struggles, there were a few people who came to Greg's defense or who reached out to him in his time of crisis and they are the ones who should be cherished and celebrated. Had they not shown up in his time of need, his story could have ended very differently. If you are one of those people, thank you. Thank you for being kind, for stepping in, for being patient, for showing understanding, for being a light, for taking a chance- for choosing to have a lion's heart. You saved a life.
To the individual who inspired me to write this, thank you. The way you treat and include others is impeccable and just one of the many wonderful qualities you possess. You remind me daily of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to love and care for others without exception. The people you have reached out to, and been a friend to, remind me of my brother. People who struggle to find people. People who just need someone to listen to them and to talk to. Basically, people who just need someone to care. I so wish Greg would've had someone like you around when he was going through what he went through. Thank you for making me want to do better and be better and for being a constant example of the good. You and your actions do not go unnoticed. Thank you for having a lion's heart.