The story started out uplifting, if troubling, with news that Max Sidorov, a Toronto man, had started a fundraising campaign for Karen Klein, the Greece, NY bus monitor so terribly bullied by 7th grade students. The video of the bullying went viral and so far, they’ve raised over $500,000 for the bus monitor.
All of that was uplifting news. But now for the creep factor. While the woman who was bullied is sending an important message of forgiveness, the mobs coming after the kids are not. Police say that over 1,000 threats have been sent to the cell phone of one of the boys who bullied the bus monitor.
We have a cellphone of one of the boys, and he’s received more than 1,000 missed calls and more than 1,000 text messages threatening him,” Capt. Steve Chatteron said. “Threats to overcome threats do no good.”
Klein, who asked police not to charge the boys, issued a plea for the madness to end.
“I feel kinda bad for them and their families because of what’s going on,” she said. “They’re being harassed terribly, and I don’t like that. I don’t want any harm to come to them.”
What they did was awful. It was so awful that I couldn’t sit through the entire video. The part where they taunted her, saying that she was so “ugly” and “fat” that her family would want to commit suicide when, according to her, her son did commit suicide ten years ago was just beyond my ability to absorb, even though the kids did not know that at the time.
When we see bulling, we want to bully back to show the bully what it feels like. We want to shut it down. We instinctively want to protect the person being bullied.
That is, if we are impartial bystanders. But let’s not forget that this goes on every day in our culture, and it’s hardly just kids. When we have party leaders putting crosshairs on their opponents, when we allow gay students to be bullied and justify it as teaching them about their “sin”, we have a Presidential candidate who held a student down to cut his hair and can only manage a weak “I’m sorry if anyone was hurt” apology, we are effectively giving the go-ahead to children to act this way based on our own tolerance for it in the allegedly adult arena.
When people have skin in the game, suddenly bullying is okay. Bullying is just “tough politics” or “if you can’t hack it, get out”. Failure to take care of yourself in the face of bullies is deemed weakness on the part of the victim.
Interesting that on Fox News’ Fox and Friends (home of right wing authoritarianism, strict father models that tend to breed bullies due to using shame and contempt to control children and other “lessors”), we got this, “You just sat there and took it. If it had been me, I’d have spanked them. Why?”
Ms. Klein responded, “I don’t like confrontation like that. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anybody. That wouldn’t have looked good either… I just restrained myself and tried to pretend they weren’t doing this.” (sort of like Jesus taught us)
Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends called the kids “monsters” and added, “If they’re this rotten at this age, just wait until they become grownups.”
These are the same people who call Romney’s high school bullying a “prank.” What if one of these kids were running for President 40 years from now? Do you think it would be relevant?
It’s wonderful that people are so touched by this story, but it’s sad that in the face of the broader message, too many respond by bullying the guilty in return. If they were adults, that would be one thing; but they are children.
Taking on bullies is a dangerous dance. You can become too much a bully in response, especially when your emotions are engaged. It’s easy to do, and in politics it’s somewhat acceptable these days. It’s even necessary to survive at times, if say someone is targeting you and won’t leave you alone.
But when we respond to bullying by threatening the bullies with bodily harm, we are no better than they are. We are not teaching them the lesson they need to learn. The lesson should be one of empathy and to treat others as you wish to be treated. At worst the lesson is that if you target someone, expect to be outed and publicly accountable for your behavior. The goal should be to develop our internal ethics that allow us to stand up to both our tormenters and our 7th grade posse. That kind of self-esteem doesn’t come from shame; it comes from positive nurturing and role modeling.
The victim in this incident gets it. She knows that more bullying is not the answer. Violence of heart begets more violence; it helps no one. Appropriate punishment along with restitution and public apologies are the way to go. The adults among us need to model the proper behavior.
What these kids did was abhorrent, but where did they get the idea that it was okay? Our culture certainly rewards the bullies and sociopaths. We justify criminal behavior or just plain greed as winners getting theirs. We glorify reality TV stars that treat others like garbage. We relish in the bully and then pretend shock when we see the result in the next generation.
In our heart of hearts, most humans identify with the victim when we have no skin in the game. We don’t like seeing another person treated so poorly. But the mob mentality of threatening the bad guys, especially when they are kids, is a dangerous game. They may have behaved like monsters, but they are not monsters. It’s an important distinction.
Standing up for ourselves or for what’s right is not the same thing as going after someone else to the degree where we are threatening him or her physically. This is precisely the kind of thinking that led to the misuse and abuse of the already egregiously poorly written Stand Your Ground laws.
A profound rethinking of our culture is in order, but since that isn’t likely to occur any time soon, the least we can do is try not to create more of them by ganging up via mob on the bullies to show them just how wrong it is for them to gang up via mob on a victim.
Karen Klein’s response offered the nation a teachable moment. She doesn’t want these kids hurt. She wants them to learn a lesson and to be used as an example for others, but she doesn’t want to vilify them.