Disarm with kindness

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Le Mars Community Middle School students listen as Jeff Veley gives them tips on how to react when someone is bullying them. The students listened intently as he spoke about his own experiences with bullying and how his reactions changed his life.

LE MARS — Students from grades four through 12th grade from Le Mars Community and Gehlen Catholic Schools were given a lesson on how to handle bullying.

Jeff Veley, youth speaker, bullying expert and radio host, spoke to students throughout the day, Monday, in assemblies at the Le Mars Community competition gym, sharing experiences and turning a problem into a solution.

“When someone is mean to you, do you feel like a winner or a loser?” Veley asked LCMS students Monday morning.

“A loser,” they replied.

“When someone is mean to you, do you feel they are a winner or a loser?” Veley asked LCMS students Monday morning.

“A winner,” they replied.

Veley said a person should not get upset when someone is picking on them or bullying them.

“The more upset and the more angry you get, the more fun they have,” he said. “They only have power over you if you give them power.”

Veley related several incidents from his own childhood, starting in kindergarten when he was overweight and had red hair.

He then related the story of how two third grade boys at his school would charge younger students a quarter to walk the rest of the way into the school.

Veley said he was scared, and was one of a number students who scrounged for a quarter each day so he wouldn’t be late for school.

After asking his grandmother for a quarter, she wanted to know why. He caved in and told her, and grandma went into action. She took him to school, and confronted the third graders, taking them in to the principal.

Veley admits it worked for a day or two, but then the boys were back at it again.

“You need to be resilient, strong and tough,” Veley said. “How awesome it would be if you chose not to get upset.”

“Words would bounce off of you. You would stay calm,” he continued.

Don’t get upset is one of the two points Veley stressed during his presentation.

He likened it to a slot machine, where one can win, and people want to see it.

That’s what a bully does, because he is winning.

However, if the slot machine doesn’t pay out, people aren’t interested because there is no action.

“You need resilience. You need to be emotionally strong, strong on the inside,” Veley said.

Veley admits social media has made the situation worse.

“Look at famous people, they get hate comments every day on Facebook or Twitter,” he said.

“Words can only hurt you if you give in to them,” he continued.

He went on to talk about emotional balloons.

“We all have them inside us. The balloon becomes so full. We need to let the air out and be hopeful. When you are resilient, those words can pass through those emotions,” he said as he threaded a long needle and thread through a blown-up balloon.

He said finding an outlet to let the air out of his emotional balloon was important.

For Veley, it’s playing music.

For athletes, it might be running or working out.

“All those things help release those emotions,” Veley said. “We need to take care of ourselves and our mental health.”

Veley had a second step for students to follow as well.

“I treat my enemy like a friend,” he said. “Yes, it sounds crazy. When you treat them like a friend, you have a chance. You will find peace.”

He related a second incident that happened to him when he came upon a student in a wheelchair and a 300-pound student in a hallway.

The wheelchair-bound student taunted the larger guy, who then lifted the student from his wheelchair and pinned him to the wall.

Veley said he spoke up and said he should not do that to the guy in the wheelchair. The big guy turned on Veley instead.

Veley related he had to make a quick decision, and chose to say he was worried about the other guy, didn’t want to see him get hurt and didn’t want the big guy to get in trouble.

The guy let him go.

A few days later the big guy confronted Veley again, but this time it was to thank him for helping him out of a tough situation and for being a friend. “I’ve got your back,” the guy told Veley.

“If you treat them like a friend, you will find peace,” Veley told the students. “Kindness calms both you and others.”

After the presentation, a number of students crowded around Veley with questions and comments.

“It was really cool to have the kids come up afterwards. A couple of them, one boy said, ‘hey, I really took that to heart. Thank you.’ It’s always neat to me to hear how the kids translate that into their own situations,” Veley said.

Veley works to empower individuals to deal with bullying.

“A lot of kids hear the typical anti-bullying message of ignore it, walk away, or tell an adult. But in the end of the day, that doesn’t empower them or give them skills, so what I heard some of them say when they came up is that it was encouraging, ‘now I know how to stop it,’” he said.

One student even asked if Veley would talk with his brother.

Veley said his background was in mental health and he worked in a center.

“I saw a lot of kids who were suicidal, and I decided I needed to go out and speak about how to overcome it,” Veley said.

“I can teach them to be strong and confident,” Veley said.

Veley’s six presentations ended with a parents meeting at 6:30 p.m., in the high school’s Little Theater.

“It’s really cool for mom and dad to know the strategies, too. This will help parents know how to empower their children,” Veley said.

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