I was going to write and post a piece on being a dick on and around college campuses, plus one on the role of the wonderweb in our culture. I will still do that, I promise, but something on my facebook page caught my eye. Well, two somethings really. You see, my network of friends tends to use the site as a way to share news, ideas, artwork and other little items. This is particularly true for my gigantic extended family. Often, facebook serves the function of a huge breakfast table for us, where we are constantly passing the paper back and forth and discussing its contents (O.K. I admit it’s usually more like bickering than discussing, but you get the point). Anyway, given the content of these two items, and the reaction they prompted in me, I felt as though it would be worth it to put those other posts on hold and discuss something urgent.
In the course of 20 minutes, two separate news articles have popped up on my newsfeed. Both detail the suicides of thirteen year old boys who were bullied by classmates and other peers. One, a young gay man, hanged himself in his backyard and spent nine days on life support before dying. The other shot himself in the head after enduring years of bullying*. I cannot state the following enough: They. Were. Both. Just. Thirteen. Years. Old. Take a minute and let that sink in. Imagine yourself at thirteen. Imagine the thirteen year olds you know now. Imagine anyone at that age deciding that their entire futures could hold nothing for them outside the pain of being bullied. Now, what are you going to do about that?
I know it may be easy to dismiss these stories as tragic one offs or random occurrences, or to point toward the victims individual differences, or even to simply look at the articles and consider how terrible some middle school kids can be and then move on with your life, but I think we’ve all been doing that for too long. I think we tend to do this because it is positively gut wrenching to consider how we, as adults in the world, tend to allow bullying and torturing to occur right beneath our noses. I wish it was easier to examine these issues with ourselves in mind, but it is not. We also might be tempted to turn events such as these into niche events which only affect a subset of kids, such as in this case where both victims were gay, and begin a campaign of protection for that particular subset. While I do think that campaigning for any group which is discriminated against is totally worthwhile and necessary, I do not think that such an action would really help us in this particular discussion.
You see, I believe that we all have an active role in perpetuating the mentality that anything which is different, or cannot be related to ourselves in some way, is, at best, something to be merely tolerated, and, at worse, something which is worthy of our scorn. We have learned, as a society, that it is polite to ignore differences, to avoid examining them and discussing them, and we have also, perhaps as a result of this, learned to tolerate others when they are hateful. Time and time again we are warned not to get involved in that which does not already involve us, and I think that it is this sort of caution that is helping to perpetuate a complex and widespread problem.
I am certain that, over the course of our adult lives, we have all witnessed an interaction or overheard a conversation which did not sit right with us. Perhaps it was a relative or friend using a racial slur, or a stranger using hateful speech. Maybe you’ve witnessed a fist fight between kids. I am certain that we have all, at one time or another, turned a blind eye or deaf ear to this and continued on our ways. I think this is particularly easy to do in situations where teenagers are being horrid to one another because it is easy to dismiss these occurrences as being typical of kids who are trying on different personas. I understand that kids often break away from their parents and seek out their own individuality by vacillating wildly to the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, so it can be easy to simply ignore these behaviors.
However, I think that, when we ignore that girl at the mall who thinks it’s hysterically funny to call another girl a whore or that boy at the bus stop who seems to punctuate every insult levied at a friend with the word faggot, we are doing these kids, and ourselves, a disservice. This also rings true for those times when a relative or friend uses an epithet in jest and we merely avert our eyes and make an internal excuse for their language and behavior. You see, whenever we allow this sort of hateful language to permeate our environment, we are sending a subtle message to kids that it is O.K. to be hateful. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to confront someone, but it has got to be less uncomfortable than contemplating the death of a thirteen year old child.
Perhaps we don’t intervene because we don’t feel as though we can really affect any change. I can understand this as well. It is easy to get caught up in the idea that we are helpless to change another person, much less the world. However, let me share something with you here. I was bullied mercilessly once upon a time. I was teased, chased, beaten and even had my clothes ripped off. Most of these things happened on busy city streets, in broad daylight. If even one adult had stopped to help me it would have meant the world to me at the time because it would have meant, in the very least, a moment of respite. Furthermore, as an adult, I can look back and understand that my tormenters were just as scared and insecure as I was, if not more so and maybe that is key. By ignoring kids when they bully out of their own insecurities, we merely perpetuate those fears when we ought to be modeling what a truly secure adult does when they see something which they know is wrong.
I know that this is quite a ramble, but what I am trying to say is simple. It is time for us all to grow up, be adults, and take control. It is not enough for us to simply avoid being bullies in our own lives, but we must do whatever we can to confront hatred and vitriol when it stumbles into our paths. We are all beings in this world, and we are all responsible, be it actively or passively, for how it operates. Can we please all agree to be a little more active in helping to stop tragedies like the ones that I have mentioned from occurring?
_Shannon (Who has nothing witty to say about this)
*To learn more about the boys mentioned above, follow the links below.