As a society we need to stop the bullying- the “othering”- especially online- now. I’m shocked by what I’ve seen on social media- posted BY ADULTS. Why is that ok? What does that say about us? We’re modeling that behavior for our kids and it’s destroying our society.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christianne Klein.
Christianne is an acclaimed Emmy® and Edward R. Murrow award-winning TV news anchor, author, journalist, mother, and former national anchor and correspondent for ABC News and Good Morning America. She teamed up with her mother, Helene Van Sant-Klein, a marriage and family therapist, to write the best-selling illustrated children’s book, Anna and the Germ that Came to Visit. The book is designed to help families deal with the changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
For more information visit www.TheGermBook.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us Christianne! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Christianne Klein: I’ve always wanted to be a journalist and author. I remember interviewing a local journalist in 9th grade for a school project, and being so inspired- I couldn’t wait to get out into the world and start my career. Every person is unique with a story to tell, and it is an enormous responsibility and honor to share those stories and communicate them with people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you became a journalist?
Christianne Klein: There are so many that I could share, but one story changed my life in an instant. I was covering a butane tanker truck that overturned in Utah. It suddenly caught on fire within 75 feet of where I was standing, and the chemicals and smoke seared the inside lining of my lungs. I had to run more than a mile away from the truck and was covered in soot and ash. That happened around 6 pm, and I continued to field anchor from the scene until almost midnight. I had no idea that my wheezing or difficulty breathing would last more than a few hours. Instead, I continued to get worse, and was placed on oxygen. I was on oxygen struggling to breathe for more than a month. I was VERY young (and have since fully recovered), but it made me reevaluate my priorities as a journalist and the risks I was taking to get an “exclusive”. This was a rather routine accident, but it could have killed me. I also believe everything happens for a reason, and this experience helped prepare me for some of the more dangerous stories I would cover in Washington, DC. It also forced me to rest and learn to listen to my body and heal. That experience was transformative and positive in many ways, although it didn’t feel like it at the time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Christianne Klein: I was covering President Obama’s first inauguration for ABC News, and our risers were with the rest of the international press on the National Mall. It was VERY cold (January in Washington, DC), and our team tried to get ahead of that by putting up two space heaters for our correspondents directly beneath the cameras. They turned them on once, right before we had to go live, and the ENTIRE row of international press lost power and didn’t know why. We were all so embarrassed! We quickly took them down and fixed the outage, but no one knew we were responsible… I guess now they do 🙂 I learned that space heaters are wonderful, but use an incredible amount of power. 🙂
Can you describe how you are making a significant social impact?
Christianne Klein: Throughout my career, I’ve tried to highlight stories that have a positive impact on people. I’m now a mom to a two year old little girl, and I desperately want her to be happy, feel loved, and have hope for the future.
The idea for the children’s book, Anna and the Germ that Came to Visit, came out of the desire to help her understand what was happening in the world in a kid-friendly way. I know so many children and parents who are struggling with what to tell their little ones about the coronavirus pandemic. That includes us. Our daughter, out of nowhere, started saying her “doll was sick”. At two years old. It was heartbreaking, and every other parent I know has been going through the same thing- their kids as young as three and four asking, “when the virus leaves can we go back to the zoo? Or when the virus leaves can we visit grandma and grandpa?” Those were the kids that were asking questions- so many others were just confused or scared and acting out. I knew I had to do something about it. Kids learn so well through children’s books, but there wasn’t a children’s book that dealt with the impact of a pandemic, so I sat down and wrote the first draft of what would become Anna and the Germ that Came to Visit. I called my mom who is a marriage and family therapist specializing in children and trauma and asked her to help me weave therapeutic aspects into the story. She immediately said yes, and even illustrated the book. We started working together that same day.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Christianne Klein: The emails and videos we’ve received from parents about their children and how it’s helped them have been so inspirational it’s left me in tears too many times to count. One mother emailed us a video of her four year old son who started singing “I don’t want mommy to die” over and over again. He was so confused, and she thought he wasn’t picking up anything that was going on- which just made the video more painful to watch. She didn’t know what to do and said how thankful she was that a book like this existed, and how much it helped him. When I first watched the video and read her email I burst into tears, I was so moved, and grateful we could help.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Christianne Klein: As a society we need to stop the bullying- the “othering”- especially online- now. I’m shocked by what I’ve seen on social media- posted BY ADULTS. Why is that ok? What does that say about us? We’re modeling that behavior for our kids and it’s destroying our society.
Additionally, we need to enact legislation to support mental health for young people that is proactive, not reactive.
And we need to talk about our feelings connect with each other, and make sure we give people the tools they need to feel hope for their future.
Even before the pandemic impacted everyone’s mental health, we faced a huge crisis in this country. Depression, anxiety disorders, and suicides or attempted suicide rates for children and teens were spiraling out of control. Kids as young as 5 and 6 trying to kill themselves. I’ve covered children’s issues for years as a journalist, and I’ve heard from more than one child that they were afraid to go to school or were anxious because they didn’t want to get shot. I’ve covered other stories where children were bullied so relentlessly, they killed themselves because they didn’t see any other way out of the pain. They couldn’t see a positive future. This is what the next generation has to deal with in addition to a global pandemic which will affect them for the rest of their lives.
From my time living in Washington, DC, I know our government fails when it comes to preparedness- it’s far more reactive than proactive. That needs to change immediately. The children who are reading Anna and the Germ that Came to Visit today, will be in the workforce 10 or 15 years from now. We won’t have a functioning society if we don’t make a major shift in how we address these issues now.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Christianne Klein: I define leadership as how you empower others to make positive change for themselves and the rest of the world. It’s not enough to simply identify a problem, it’s how you decide to tackle it, guide, and encourage others to try to make the world a better place.
What are your “things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Christianne Klein: I wish I would have known the impact that individual events could have on shaping the rest of your life and really appreciated what that means. That one event- being in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time could change the course of your life.
I also wish I would have known that what matters most to you at 18 years old, won’t matter as much when you’re 25 or 30. To appreciate every single day and live life in the moment- this is something I still struggle with- I want to look forward and build and grow and that can make it difficult to appreciate what you have now. I definitely didn’t appreciate that when I was younger. I was always looking five years ahead. I wanted to skip my Wellesley College graduation ceremony so I could start my career as a TV news anchor a week early. Looking back, I want to tell the young version of me to live in the moment- that it’s ok to falter, and don’t even try to skip your graduation ceremony. You’ll remember that for the rest of your life. Starting your career a week early isn’t worth it.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Christianne Klein: Treating one another with kindness, equality, and ending all forms of bullying- including attacking and putting people into categories that don’t truly define us as individuals or as a society. We ALL want to be happy. We ALL want to take care of our family. We ALL want a better and stronger future- whatever that means for us. Working in Washington, DC, I was equally disappointed by the lack of progress and action to help society by politicians of both parties. They often take campaign contributions from the same groups of people. Attacking each other and blaming the “other political side” is a distraction, and it’s very unfortunate. Our “leaders” need to lead by example. The best outcome for our society comes from working together, not attacking each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Christianne Klein: “Everything happens for a reason”. This is the single most powerful lesson for me and it guides my life. It can be so difficult when you’re sick or a relationship ends or you lose your job or you’re scared, but that has always pushed my growth personally, even if it was horribly uncomfortable or even terrifying at the time. I also know that when you’re in it, if someone says, “everything happens for a reason”, you want to tell them to go to hell LOL but it’s ALWAYS been true for me.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Christianne Klein: I would love to meet with Pope Francis. He’s been pushing for change that may seem minor to the rest of the world, but within the structure of the Catholic Church, it has tremendous impact. He has also openly discussed mental health, social issues, and bullying. The Vatican is a place of tradition, and grandeur- and the Pope is a symbol of that- from the Papal apartments where he lives to what the Pope wears, but this a man who shunned that tradition without judging past men who held that position. He lives in a modest apartment and doesn’t wear the traditional elaborate garb. He has also pushed back on several other world leaders and stands up for what he believes in. Whether you agree with him or not, or whether you’re Catholic or not, he is an enormously fascinating individual.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My handle is @ckleintv on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and our website is www.TheGermBook.com