Bullying has been a recent topic in the news. In Florida, two teenage girls and their parents were arrested in the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick. Rebecca, 12, jumped off an abandoned concrete plant last month and the two 14 year olds were arrested on charges of aggravated stalking. Another girl in our county died by suicide last month. As more and more of these stories surface into our media, we begin to question the roles and responsibilities of our society in preventing these tragedies.
I personally have been going back and forth about whether schools should be held liable for cyberbullying cases. On one hand, I do not believe that the students should be punished for something that happens off school grounds and out of school time; when students leave school grounds, it does not become the school’s responsibility, but rather the parent’s, to monitor. On the other hand, I do believe that cyberbullying is getting out of hand and that, as a society, we need to start taking a stand and making regulations. I think this is exactly what happened in the Florida case: the girls are being used as an example. Working in a high school, I hear all kinds of dramatic stories of girls who make fake Facebook accounts of other girls and post fake naked pictures of them on it, or of freshmen creating a freshmen classes Twitter account to anonymously bash their classmates; or tweeting unacceptable things about adults and authority figures. It really has gotten out of hand and I believe that some kids do not know their boundaries.
Today, the freshmen class watched a video about the effects of bullying. This video followed two students and documented their feelings and everyday experiences. One of the students was born at 26 weeks and was only expected to live for 24 hours; he is now 14. Of course, the kid suffers from disabilities from this premature birth. However, had the kids known what a miracle he was and understood why he was the way he was, he probably would not have been picked on as much; instead, we would see him as an inspiration. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking about the power of getting to know someone. Think about riding public transportation or going to the mall: you see a lot of nameless faces and because they are just that–nameless faces, it automatically gives you the right to judge. You think about their strange clothing choices, or the weird way they walk, or the oddly shaped mole on behind their ear. However, as soon as you put a name to someone, they automatically become someone semi-special. You begin to invest a little more in who they are as a person and you begin to judge a little less.
This same effect occurs in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. This is a nonfiction novel about two men who brutally murder a family of four in Kansas. When we see cases of murder in the news (Jessica Ridgeway, James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner), we are flabbergasted as to how someone could harm another person in such a way. The same is true of the Clutter family. However, Capote divulges us private information about Dick and Perry (the killers), such that, when the book ends and the two go to the gallows, the reader feels a pit in his/her stomach: it is tragic that Dick and Perry die in the end. Capote manipulates the reader to feel sympathetic, especially for Perry, through exposing Perry’s personal life: the reader learns about Perry’s broken childhood, his need for affection and affirmation, his emotional instability, his desires and hopes and dreams. The reader creates a connection to Perry through these intimate details and is legitimately sad when he dies, despite his murderous and brutal act.
Edgar Allen Poe also utilizes the same techniques in his stories, such as The Cask of Amontillado. This is a story about a villain who leads a drunk friend into a catacomb and kills him. However, because the story is narrated from the villain’s perspective, the reader is privy to information about the motives, thoughts, and feelings of Montresor. So, when Montresor kills Fortunato in the end, is it not so tragic; the reader feels a connection to the narrator because Montresor has shared some intimate information.
So, when we invest in other people–we put a name to their face, we discover a connection with them, no matter how small that may be–we begin to care about them. It might be selfish, actually, because, since we invested the time, we do not want to see something bad happen to them, because then that shows an inadequacy and flaw within ourselves.
Another take away message I got from the documentary is that we often blame the victim. Whenever the kid told his parents or administration about the bullying, their reaction was, “I can’t believe you let yourself be tormented. You need to stand up for yourself.” The kid responded by saying, “Well I just thought they were playing around and joking. It’s not a big deal.” This made me very sad, because, of course, the kid just wants to fit in.
So, I asked my class to brainstorm a list of potential solutions to prevent bullying. Basically, our list consisted of, “If someone punches you, punch them back.” Yes, it will work every time.
What has changed in our society that has caused this to be such a big deal? Surely bullying is not a new concept-our parents and grandparents were probably bullied as well.
I began thinking about just how complicated this issue is and I am not really sure how exactly we can prevent. Yes, awareness is always key to any issue, but as my kids point out, the more we shove these sensitive issues down their throats, the less they listen (or, at least admit to listen). So I am not sure what the answer or solution is.