Q&A with Bob Lenz, Author of Dignity Revolution: Standing up for the Value of Every Person
What was your inspiration for writing THE DIGNITY REVOLUTION? I grew up with two siblings who have special needs and I watched them endure a lot of grief and pain by being ridiculed or treated with disregard. I had to come to a point in my life where I asked myself, “Do they have value?” And if they do, doesn’t everyone? The answer of course was and is “Yes!” We recycle and take care of our garbage sometimes better than we take care of our fellow human beings. Something has to shift in us to begin to understand that every person has value and worth.
How does today’s society contribute to a person’s value? Society measures worth on what people can do, and as a result, we have become more human “doings” than human beings. It seems our society is so wrapped up in issues and agendas. I always say it is not an argument to be won, it is a person to be loved. How is it possible that we still have genocides going on in the world with all the technology and knowledge we have? Our society can send robots to Mars, and we can communicate instantly around the world, yet we still don’t know how to love people.
What pros and cons do you see in the current youth generation? We could write another book about the positives and negatives of things like social media. In some ways, students are now more involved in volunteerism and leadership activities than ever before. But then you look at the number of addictions, cuttings, suicides, and school shootings, it can be discouraging. So how can we help this generation that seems to have so many opportunities before them, use those opportunities to their advantage in positive ways? That’s what I hope we can accomplish with the Dignity Revolution. The 8th and 9th grader is our core target group. We recognize we may not be able to stop all bullying, but we can teach kids how to stand up for themselves and not become victims of others, and how not to become the bullies themselves. This book also contains information that is valuable for teachers and parents as well.
If you could be in charge of social policy in America, what would you do? First, let’s take away the label “special needs.” In fact, let’s take away all labels. We have reverse discrimination when we put athletes or celebrities in a certain class of society. Let’s begin to just see human beings. I think of my brother, Tim, who was in a wheelchair most of his life suffering from scoliosis as well as mental challenges. People would come up to him and say really loudly, “Hi Tim, How are YOU?” He had a lot of challenges, but he wasn’t deaf. But people just didn’t know how to treat him as a regular person. If I was in charge of the world and could do one thing, it would be to teach people how to stop judging others by how they look or what they can or cannot do, but instead, see each individual as someone that needs love and deserves respect.
What practical things can kids do to handle bullying? We start by taking away the affects of the bully by empowering their victims, by letting each student know that they do not deserve to be picked on or ridiculed. If a bully cannot get the reaction they want, that shuts them down. Second, we need to love the bullies enough to report them to the appropriate authorities. This is the role of love – to be strength under control and to serve someone else. And bullies need to feel and experience consequences in order to change. You do not truly love someone if you condone or enable their bad behavior.
School shootings seem to be occurring more often. What can we do to prevent school violence? What we need to deal with are the issues beneath the issues. We live in a pluralistic society and we need to learn to deal with conflicts and find resolutions. Many people point to bullying as the problem, saying bullying has increased and that’s what leads to violence. But there have always been bullies throughout history. That is nothing new. While I don’t necessarily agree that bullying has increased, I would say that bullying has been intensified by access to social media because things can become public so quickly. Again, the real issue comes down to the treatment of people and how we view them. Every person deserves to be heard and loved. If we can ever make that concept resonate with young people, we can change the culture of violence on many levels.
You included some information in the new book that you share in schools about Adolph Hitler’s T4 program. Why do you talk about that? T4 was an abbreviation based on the address in Berlin where the headquarters for the program was located: Tiergartenstrasse 4. It is there they ordered experiments on the elderly, the physically and mentally handicapped, the institutionalized, or anyone considered genetically inferior. They would starve people to see how long they would last. They would place children under water to see how long it would take before they drowned. They did air pressure tests to see what heights people could withstand before their eyes popped out. It was mandatory for those whom they considered genetically inferior to be sterilized to prevent their hereditary blood line from “infecting” the next generation. The torture was horrific and seemingly unbelievable. But it happened in modern history. T4 had a slogan used as propaganda to try and justify the program: “Life not worthy of life.” Isn’t that phrase exactly where our modern-day society is heading towards right now? Every day, we are losing kids to suicide, abuse and addiction because of that same attitude of disregard for human beings. This is wrong. This is injustice. No one, for any reason, should ever be bullied, abused, or stripped of their dignity. We need to declare every life is worthy of life.
How has the breakdown of the family contributed to bullying and other social problems in kids? I talk with kids from broken homes all the time. I remember one boy who came to me after his parents divorced, his dad was going to remarry a woman who simply didn’t want to raise a boy. He was going to be placed in foster care because his parents had essentially tossed him aside. I always show the kids a five dollar bill and I tear it into pieces. I show them that if you tape it back together with the serial number in tack, that five dollar bill still has worth. Kids are more than serial numbers and no matter what has torn them apart, they still have worth. I handed that young man my torn five dollar bill and I told him to hang it on his wall and remember that. We have to start identifying the reasons kids are losing their way, but stop making those reasons into excuses. Reality is reality. People hurt people every day. Parents hurt their kids; kids hurt their peers. The question is how are we going to react to our circumstances? I tell kids not to let their pain, past or problem, take away their value.
How do you balance evangelism with the inability to talk about God in public schools? I’m an evangelist at heart. My faith is part of everything I do. So sometimes it is quite a challenge not to say at the end of a school assembly that Jesus is the answer. But if I wanted to plant a flower where something else is growing, I would have to tear down whatever was there first. I would have to plow the dirt, then put the seed in. In any school I walk into, I try to tear down the culture’s rules and begin to show kids they can think differently, they can act differently. I want them to know they have the ability to love people who are not like them, and who don’t think like them. I believe the universal truth – of loving your neighbor as yourself– ultimately points to Jesus because God is love. And each time I speak, I pray that truth permeates their beings and makes them hungry to learn more. We typically always couple our school events with an evening event sponsored by a church to give each student the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Click here for the official press release about DIGNITY REVOLUTION.