(Photo: WaterBrook Press)
NEW YORK — Nick Vujicic, a Christian evangelist born without limbs who has inspired millions around the globe with his story of faith and perseverance, is using his new book, Stand Strong, to speak to the 3.2 million U.S. teens, and countless others around the globe, who say they have been bullied.
"This is written specifically to teenagers sort of in their language. I'm very passionate about the standing strong against bullying message," Vujicic told The Christian Post.
Vujicic's passion for the subject stems from his own experiences with being bullied as a child due to being born with no arms and no legs, a condition called tetra-amelia syndrome.
The Australian-born evangelist has often testified of dealing with depression and attempting suicide at age 10 due to his disabilities and being targeted by bullies.
Vujicic identifies with his teen readers in Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down) and advises how to build a "bully defense system" by embracing their self-worth, standing by their values and developing a spiritual foundation, among other things.
Below is a transcript of CP's interview with Vujicic.
CP: Stand Strong is your third book. How does this one differ from your previous ones (Life Without Limits and Unstoppable)?
Vujicic: We're just so excited about this book that really speaks to the teenager's heart about knowing the truth of your value. Knowing the truth that you're beautiful just the way that you are, and not in a prideful way, but not being rocked by what other people think of you. Self-worth is something this next generation really needs to come back on. It's not determined on other people's opinions or how good you look or this or that, or how popular you are. Because it was an issue that I was dealing with that actually led me to an attempted-suicide. I want all the people to know to not be chained by other people's opinions.
CP: What is your definition of bullying, how do you identify it?
Vujicic: I just tell teenagers everywhere that if three people tell you you're a bully, then you're a bully. Pretty simple, right? Even sometimes we hear someone gossiping about someone and we laugh along with it… If I start a fire in a room and you help me spread the fire, you're just as bad as I. Knowing that we don't know what our victims are going through at home, we don't know what's going on in their mind and their heart, I don't want to be someone's reason to hate their life. I want to be someone's reason to seek something more in their life.
CP: Bullying does not seem to get as much emphasis in churches as do perhaps life and marriage issues. Why do you think that is?
Vujicic: I think first of all, pride is something that comes into our mind and then obviously the ease of it, knowing that it's culturally acceptable to bully, to gossip and all that. It's not just in the schools, it's in the workplaces, it's in some churches, denominations and stuff, Christian schools. We need to be the light in this world, we need to be the salt of the earth. We need to be the ones who reach out to those who have no friends or who are being picked on and standing up for what's right. Often times we feel like either we can't make a world of difference or we feel that it's not going to change anything anyway. The truth is you can change someone's day, you can change someone's life, but you have to show up and do what you got do to actually see any fruit coming from it.
I just want everyone to know that sometimes we feel like we have to have more before we can be effective or find our purpose. You don't need more to be a miracle. You can be a miracle for someone today in such small ways yet life-changing ways for them.
CP: Some people might hold the opinion that bullying is a necessary evil, especially in areas like the military or team sports, and that it builds character or camaraderie. What are you thoughts on that?
Vujicic: A lot of parents do do that. Actually the largest rate of suicides in the world is in Asian countries across the world, and it's a pressure to perform. It's a form of bullying, in my opinion, to make sure that your kid gets the best grades, the best jobs and all that sort of stuff. I just want my child to be happy. I want him to do his best and trust God in the rest, but I'm not going to bully him.
Some people think it's toughening someone up. Yeah, my cousins picked and poked on me here and there, but in a very fun way that was in a safe place. But just poking at others down the street or in the school hallway is actually more negative than positive, and I don't need to bring any negativity to build someone's confidence up. In fact, I'll find another way to do that — in a positive way. So I challenge myself even in that, because I know that even the smallest negative comments that might be the most non-offensive comment, can always lead to something negative in their their mind, subconsciously as well.
CP: Jesus teaches in the Bible to "turn the other cheek" and to forgive others "70 times seven." Certainly He's not speaking of being a silent victim. What do you teach people about responding to bullying in positive ways?
Vujicic: You know when Jesus was bullied, Jesus Himself said, "Tell me what I've done wrong." And they didn't know exactly what to say at that point. That's the one thing that I've used in my life to actually stand up to my bullies: "What's your problem? Why are you picking on me? What did I do to you?" Sometimes it takes such humility to admit that you are being hurt, that it is affecting you. Going up to your bully and saying, "Can you please stop." Some do stop, some don't. Generally speaking, in our findings, about three percent of the student body [in a school] are bullies and just pick on 10-15 people a day. We've just done 20,000 students in Hawaii, and in Hawaii 12.8 percent of all teenagers have already attempted suicide. In the surveys that we've done, a third of the of those suicides is because of bullying at school.
So we try bringing the fact that first of all, you might think you're just having fun but you don't know how deep your words can go. Why don't you just do something else? You know in elementary school, we all say, "If you don't' have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." In high school we should say, "If you don't have anything nice to say, shut your mouth." So that's what I'm telling high schools all around the world.
If we ever wanted to make a difference in our life...if we didn't do better than yesterday, then why do we think we're going to do better tomorrow than today? So we really need to set a mark in understanding that first of all, if you're a victim you're not alone, don't give up, don't worry about what other people say, try standing up for yourself. Sometimes you need to be a true friend to get a true friend. Once we know the truth of our value, that's not determined by other people around us, that's when you can have that peace and fulfillment in yourself. You're gonna get through it, like I did. I got through it, and I think anyone can if they just stick to the truth one day at a time. And pray for those people, right (bullies)? They're the ones that have some issues.
CP: What about victims of bullying facing the temptation to become bullies themselves?
Vujicic: Hurting people hurt others, but that's no excuse. If your dad is abusing you because his dad abused him, how is that any good, anywhere at any time? It's not. We need to be that change in the generations that understand that, "Yes, I am hurting or I am being controlled but controlling someone else's feelings that sort of makes me feel back in control." It's a false state of security. It's a false state of happiness and control. A lot of us are scared on the inside, and so we try to control the things we can change but not realize the effects of that. It's not the answer anyway. If you're hurting people because you're hurting, that's no excuse. Know that God is there to help you, and to see a change in the world we need to be that change.
CP: Faith in God is what helped you overcome bullying and deal the challenges you face. How do you deliver that message when you travel, especially to those who don't share your religious outlook?
Vujicic: It depends on which crowd and where I'm at, but I always talk about faith, love and hope. The greatest hope is knowing that I'm not going to die, I'm going to live forever and my arms and legs are up there (heaven). I have a pair of shoes in my closet in case He says yes to me. I've seen blind people seeing, deaf people hearing, lame people walk. I've seen that stuff which is really cool. What I do know is that even if God doesn't give me arms and legs here on earth, I don't need them.
I don't need a physical body that's healed. Even if I'm dying of cancer. If I don't die of cancer, I'll die in a car crash. If I don't die in a car crash, I'll die some other way. Either way, I'm a citizen of heaven passing through. The reason I have a positive attitude is because I'm healed. I'm healed to a point that I don't need stuff. I need peace, I need purpose, I need forgiveness of my sins. I'm not a person to say that all paths lead to heaven, because how good is good and how bad is bad?
Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life." Knowing that I'm now going to be living forever, the fruit of that is a positive attitude. Now does that mean that I don't cry? No, I still cry. I still have my ups and downs. But with faith, I remind myself of the promises, knowing that I can stand strong in the truth. The truth that I'm not a mistake. The truth that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. The truth that everyone is valuable just the way we are.
A preview of Stand Strong: You Can Overcome Bullying (and Other Stuff That Keeps You Down):