Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We need to stop it

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.


L. said...

I think probably the common theme I see in the bullies who torment my son is that they are indeed "going through a rough time at home."

Sure, some of them might be psychopaths, but it seems to me that their cruel behavior is a symptom of other problems, that, if addressed, would help their situation and behavior.

For example, one of the boys' mother has a new baby at home, so she tells her older son to "go out and play" -- all day, from morning until night on weekends. And he gets into all sorts of mischief.

I continuously tell my son the reason that boys bully him is not his problems -- it's because of THEIR problems.

bearing said...

My personal favorite bully-coddling sentiment:

"Aren't you worried that if you homeschool, your child will never learn how to stand up to bullies?"

That's right, folks:

"Bullies: Providing a valuable socialization service!"

I always wonder if these folks, finding there aren't enough bullies at the schools their children go to, will withdraw them and send them to a school with a higher bully-to-pupil ratio.

Maybe I'll answer next time, "Actually, I'm keeping him home so I can enroll him in an intensive bully-shadowing program. I'm hoping to raise him up to be an excellent bully himself, at which point I will send him to your kid's school. I really believe in giving back to society, you know?"

(wv: rebuffpk. I rebuffed pre-K. And K, and 1, and 2....0

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem is that people who witness bullying do not come to the aid of the victim. I have seen this with children and adults.

I know a woman who is currently being bullied by another woman, a member of her Rotary club. This woman has publicly defamed her, and stood up in club meetings and screamed at her, for no other reason than the woman brought up a topic at a board meeting that the other woman, through some stretch of her imagination, thought was "inappropriate." (Note: It was a club governance issue, and entirely appropriate for discussion.) So the bully screamed at her and called her names in front of others at the meeting. The reaction from others present: nothing. Not a word. Not even a private word of support later.

When my friend tried to address the bullying issue, she was bullied again, and again the same reaction from witnesses: nothing.

Bullying stops when WE stop it, friends.

L. said...

Actually, Beraing, I think that learning to deal with bullies is a big plus, and it is one of the reasons I continue to send my boy to his current school.

Then again, I also sent him to germy public daycare when he was an infant, just to build up his immunities. ;)

Seriously, all of my kids have learned from a young age how to identify and avoid children who cause problems.

bearing said...

"learning to deal with bullies is a big plus"

So let me get this straight: the bullies at your kid's school are providing him a public service?

What about the kids who ARE the bullies? Shall we encourage them in their bully-ness, lest they reform themselves and deprive others of a valuable learning experience?

I'm sorry, but I don't think any scheme that basically requires some children to be damaging themselves and others can ever be "a big plus." I couldn't possibly look at the poor kid who IS the bully and think, "Gee, I'm really glad that nobody's teaching you social skills, because it's so useful for MY kid to learn to deal with people like you."

JMB said...

OK, I'm not sure how the school is responsible for what these students did. In my opinion, the students are responsible for what they did, including, unfortunately, the student who took his own life.
18 year olds can be incredibly stupid; this is a tragedy. What is even sadder is that the boy decided to take his own life - why? Because he was afraid of his parent's reaction to the knowledge that he is homosexual? Because he wasn't sure of his own sexuality? Because he was humiliated? I'm not saying that what the roommate and other student did was not gravely wrong. But to take your own life because of this? It seems so senseless.

With full disclosure- this boy was from my area. My friend's son graduated from high school with him. Failure, human weakness, screw ups, dropping out, admitting weakness is simply not an option in the area that I live in.
I don't blame the school. What is at fault here is the quest for perfection for our children. So many kids feel like if they are not perfect they do not deserved to be loved. God help them.

L. said...

"So let me get this straight: the bullies at your kid's school are providing him a public service?" ---> They are indeed.

"What about the kids who ARE the bullies? Shall we encourage them in their bully-ness, lest they reform themselves and deprive others of a valuable learning experience?"

Ah, that's like spraying cold germs on babies at daycare to build their immunities.

All I'm saying is that sometimes very bad situations can have silver linings.

I'm looking at the original post, and trying to come up with a possible silver lining from this horrible situation. The only possibility that I can think of is that the two students charged are remorseful, and dedicate their lives to preventing what they caused.

Nârwen said...

I was a prime target as a kid, particularly in elementary school. (I've said, only half-jokingly, that if I were to die in mortal sin, my Hell would be to be stuck in third grade for eternity !) I basically 'learned' that only adults could be trusted, which damaged my social skills a great deal . Soon, my body began to 'protect' me. I developed weird rashes, nausea, and even boils on the soles of my feet. I was not malingering - I was genuinely sick - but it resulted in my having schoolwork sent home for me because I was absent so much.
There was one good side effect - when I reached adolescence, I had a remarkable immunity to peer pressure - mainly because I despised a lot of my 'peers' and preferred the company of adults.

David said...

This is a heartbreaking story. What a sense of shock, violation, and humiliation this man must have had when he realized what other students had done to him. He probably could not imagine facing other students on his campus, not to mention friends and family, now that all knew - and, in some cases, had even seen with their own eyes - what sort of thing he had been doing with another man. Worse, Mr. Clementi saw for himself how cold and cruel we human beings can be when he discovered that people had been watching live coverage of his sex life for their own amusement (and no doubt their lurid pleasure also) without any regard whatsoever for his humanity. They just didn't care. Evidently, it was more than he knew how to handle.

I wanted to comment on something Erin said. She wrote, "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." Here I must respectfully disagree with Erin. I don't believe it was Wei, Ravi, or their viewing audience who hurt Tyler in the worst possible way, awful though their actions clearly were. I think the blame lies elsewhere.

A friend of mine likes to say that the foremost tragedy of modernity is what he calls "ontological homelessness." He's saying the average person doesn't know the meaning of his life.

The late Msgr. Luigi Giussani, in his book Is It Possible to Live This Way?, puts it this way:

"It would be wrong to bring children into the world if the destiny for happiness did not exist... because giving birth would mean giving a child a possibility of atrocious suffering [such as Tyler faced]. The first among these sufferings is the absence of any meaning to his living, which he could escape only being a fool. The ideal, therefore, for man to save himself, would be to be a fool." (p. 21) [Emphasis mine]

The worst possible hurt is not to know, with certainty, the meaning of my life, not to understand that the deepest needs of my heart are destined for satisfaction in Christ. It seems to me that poor Tyler was overwhelmed by this terrible evil precisely because he did not understand clearly, did not believe with utter certainty, that his life was absolutely and unequivocally worth living - that it was for him, so to speak. Had he known this, he might still be alive today.

We should draw the same lesson for ourselves from this tragedy. We can easily become upset, disoriented, and overwhelmed when confronted with terrible stories like these. But even evil, in its own way, points to Christ and our need for Him. The answer to the deepest needs of our hearts does not coincide with our ability to thwart the action of bullies. It coincides exclusively with Christ. He alone answers all our longings, and standing in Him, we can face all the traumas of life with peace and assurance.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

With the luxury of not being in the middle of the situation, it seems that the first response to the Rotary Club bully would be to wait until she runs out of breath, then contemptuously respond "Are you through with your little temper tantrum Emily? Do you really enjoy hearing the sound of your own voice? You haven't said anything to us."

The other measure though, is for everyone else to tell her "Emily, shut up, we've had enough of this," and/or for the chair to rule her out of order.