What happens when schools treat bullying as a minor inconvenience--mainly because of the victim, who insists on complaining about it--and fail to punish bullies in any significant way?
We, as a culture, send the message to our kids that bullying is perfectly acceptable. And we ensure that bullies, instead of learning from their erroneous behavior and striving to correct it as they mature, will just grow up to be...older bullies.
Take this sad story, which I won't excerpt here because I know some of my readers are moms with early-reader children who might be disturbed by some of the words in the story. The story involves a college-aged young man who was engaging in certain behavior with another young man in his dorm room; unknown to him, his roommate found the situation hilarious, set up a camera, and streamed the video of this young man's behavior with the other young man out onto the web. On two separate occasions. With the alleged help and collusion of a young woman who apparently also found this secret videotaping screamingly funny.
And the young man found out. And took his own life.
Readers of this blog know that when it comes to sex outside of marriage, I agree with my Church that all of it is gravely morally evil. But the evil of driving a man to suicide is beyond reprehensible, regardless of the morality of the actions of that man. And it isn't as though the two bullies in this story were concerned about this young man's actions from any sort of moral standpoint (which wouldn't have made it moral for them to videotape him anyway); they just wanted to embarrass and ridicule him. I have a feeling they would have wanted to do the same thing if the young man were found to be with a young woman, or even engaging in certain immoral behaviors alone. The point was to hurt and humiliate this fellow human being, to dehumanize and depersonalize him, which is what all bullies do to their victims. From the standpoint of these two bullies, their actions were wildly successful--because nothing says, "Yes, you have hurt me in the worst possible way," like throwing yourself off of a bridge to drown in the depths below.
It is to be hoped that the bullies will be held accountable, though given our legal system that's far from a foregone conclusion. But the big question is: why were they never held accountable before now? Or, if this really was their first foray into big-league bullying, why did they grow up surrounded by messages that said that bullying was fine, that it was nothing but harmless pranks and part of life or part of growing up, that it really wasn't any worse than a practical joke, that the victims of bullying are just pathetic little dweebs who deserve it in the first place?
Because, like it or not, that's what our society teaches bullies. So instead of maturing away from their thuggish habits, bullies just get older, cleverer, and more cruel. And every time we shrug at bullying and say things like "Boys will be boys," or "He doesn't mean any harm," or "She's going through a rough time at home," or "The so-called victim is just an oversensitive mommy's boy" or "The so-called victim needs to stop being such a drama queen and stick up for herself..." and so on, we enable this.
And it needs to stop. We need to stop it.