Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Free to be Kind

Lauren and her two siblings grew up in a sunny household in Orange County, California.  Their mother, an accomplished home chef and actress, and father, a prominent lawyer, gave their children everything possible, from skiing and snowboarding trips to frequent Disneyland visits.  Well liked and beautiful from an early age, Lauren was also a nationally ranked, competitive tennis player from childhood onward.  Her happy upbringing, striking looks, and natural intelligence made her popular, and she seemed destined for a smooth road through adolescence.

When middle school began, Lauren was part of a tight-knit group of friends.  However, part of the way through sixth grade, they suddenly turned on her over a boy.  Her former friends initiated a hate campaign centered on Lauren, and it seemed that nearly everyone in school joined in.  Continuing throughout seventh and eighth grades, they did whatever they could to make her feel alone and worthless, from throwing things at her during lunch to stealing her homework and ripping it up before class.  They would hover near her locker in order to see her combination so they could break in and steal her things.  And they would send boys to ask her out and then break up with her in front of people to maximize the embarrassment.

Lauren’s self-confidence vanished.  Her grades dropped drastically because she was so focused on the social abuse, to the point that she was scared to go to school each morning.  She refused to answer the phone, and finding places to hide on campus became a daily routine.  As the bullying continued, Lauren developed an eating disorder and battled depression for several years, finally leading to a suicide attempt because of how threatened and isolated she felt.  She was thirteen years old.

Lauren was able to recover with the help of her family and a youth organization outside of school, where she regained the ability to be comfortable with herself.  In high school, things were much better, mostly due to the new environment and chance for a fresh start with new classmates.  However, she continued to witness similar “mean girl” behavior, even if she was no longer the target.  Lauren was deeply affected by what had happened, and wanted to do something about it for others.  As she began to think about possible careers, her primary goal was to find one that would allow her to raise awareness of the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse that’s often present in female relationships.

In college, Lauren entered the film program, where she interned on the set of a Hollywood documentary about the problems with our world and what we can do to make it better.  It was then that she realized the enormous power a documentary film can have in bringing attention to an important cause.  Seeing an opportunity, Lauren and her friend Molly conceived their own film. 

The idea was to document their quest to find a common ground of kindness and mutual respect that could help end female bullying.  They would interview women and girls across the country about their lives and experiences to highlight similarities in search of a common female bond.  The goal was not to suggest that all females become best friends, but simply to promote a level of respect amongst one another.  They called the project “Finding Kind,” and pitched it to the Hollywood filmmaker Lauren had interned for.  He agreed to fund it.

Making the film inspired Lauren and Molly to launch their own non-profit organization to raise awareness of the negative effects of girl-against-girl abuse.  The pair traveled across the country four times in four years, screening “Finding Kind” in schools and promoting healthy dialogue.  They developed a curriculum to present with the film to further the notion of transformation through kindness, urging girls to start their own “kind clubs” that could foster communication and healing.

Lauren Parsekian is the co-CEO of The Kind Campaign, an organization dedicated to facilitating honest conversation between girls and women of all ages.  She is also the new wife of Aaron Paul, one of the stars of the hit show Breaking Bad.  Lauren is a driven activist who has dedicated her life to spreading kindness and bringing girl-against-girl bullying and violence to an end.

Take a pause today and say a few kind words to someone you think needs to hear them.  You’ll be amazed at how it affects them… and you.  As Lauren says, “You are free to be kind!”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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