A childhood of being bullied leads to a life based upon kindness, compassion and service
When you walk through a stormYou’ll Never Walk Alone, by Gerry and the Pacemakers
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky.
On a cold day in London a child sat in the shadow of a school building wiping away tears before heading home. He had endured yet another day of torment and hiding his emotions had become normal. He didn’t dare stand-up to his tormentors, but the shame of having to tell his father he was being bullied was even more frightening. So for years he would wipe the tears away, along with any chance that someone would help him with his suffering.
The emotional tug-of-war that comes with being profoundly hurt, day in day out, takes its toll on the strongest of people. But on a child’s psyche, it creates damaging emotional rocks that can drag him back into a dark well of sadness, anger and fear. Many never fully recover. But what if they chose to redirect all of their traumatic energy toward making the world a better place?
As you may have guessed, I was the boy in the story.
I lived in fear most of my adolescent life, being relentlessly bullied by not only children, but by my teachers as well.
I have always wondered why I was picked out for such emotional mistreatment. Was it because I was sensitive and thus easier to intimidate? Maybe I will never know…
It all started with adults shaming me and that opened the floodgates for my peers to join in. Why would children think it is wrong when a person of authority is doing the exact same thing? A simple class question like, “What do you want to be when you grow-up?” would garner an emotional blow from my teacher: “We all know that Logothetis is a bit thick, and he’ll end up living off his father for the rest of his life.”
As the classroom filled with laughter, my inner world crumbled.
Disempowering people can be a powerful tool, but why would anyone ever want to use it? My young mind couldn’t comprehend why people would want to make others feel so meaningless, so unseen.
As I grew older I pushed forward, burying the emotional damage deep down. It began to manifest itself in self-harming ways; I knew it was only a matter of time before I couldn’t take it anymore. But then something happened — I watched a film that would change my life forever: The Motorcycle Diaries — a romanticized version of Che Guevara’s travels in South America, a journey noted by his willingness to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Suddenly I was hit with a sense of purpose that was clearer than it had ever been before. I wanted to travel and connect with others. I wanted to be Kerouac.
I wanted to meet people and share my experiences with the world.
So I made the decision to quit my job and do what any sane person would do… I decided to cross America surviving on only 5 dollars a day and the kindness of strangers.
But why? Why did I want to leave my successful job, my home, my comfortable life? The only answer that made sense was that I wanted to be seen, I wanted to be heard, and along the way I wanted others to feel the same way. For what is the point of life without the intense joy of human connection flowing between each and every one of us?
I wanted to prove (maybe to myself) that the humanity within us existed and thrived and that if a shy, emotionally-scarred man like myself could reach for the stars, then anyone could.
I wanted to inspire an army of the ‘unseen’ to rise up and take back their hope and self-worth.
When you have to figure out what you’re going to eat or where you’re going to stay on a cold night, you tend to get talkative very quickly. I had found my niche; I wanted to hear others’ stories and create some of my own along the way.
After an arduous and equally inspiring month on the road I made it from Times Square to the Hollywood sign. As time went on and the accomplishment of my trip wore off, I could feel those old feelings creeping back, making me question every decision. I was becoming that boy hiding his tears behind the school building again. That’s the thing with emotional abuse: you never really get rid of it. You just work day in and day out to live above it. Trying to create positive energy in the world is one way I choose to battle back from my past.
So again, in an act of pure insanity, I decided to ride a motorcycle with a sidecar around the world relying on the kindness of strangers. This time the difference was that those who helped me by opening up their hearts would receive a life-changing gift in return. I would be the stranger offering them kindness like so many others had helped me.
When I look back at my trip it feels like a distant dream. I was able to help a homeless man in Pittsburgh get an apartment and go back to school. I helped an Indian man buy a rickshaw and pull his family out of poverty. I was able to build a house for a Cambodian woman with HIV.
Life had bullied these people for so long and I felt honored to be able to bring some hope back to them, to help them to feel seen. Seeing the empowerment that kindness brought to their lives empowered me in ways I could never repay. And still cannot.
There is power in bullying, but it’s a power that can be harnessed for good. I used that power to help others feel empowered and seen — to help offset those misguided among us who choose to emotionally abuse others. This passion has fueled my drive to spread kindness all over the world.
When people ask me, “Leon what if I don’t have the means to travel like you?” I tell them it all starts from within. The greatest journey is the one from our head to our heart. We can all make choices in our lives to start living a life based around kindness, compassion and empathy. It can be something small like smiling to strangers on your way to work.
You see, you never know what that smile means to someone who feels unseen.
Go be kind — people need you…
You may also enjoy reading Wake Up, Smarten Up, Rise UP: How a Genetic Disability Inspired a Life of Service, by Cara Yar Khan