A boy uploads a video on YouTube describing the pain he is in from bullying at school. Before anyone can tell him that the bullying is not because of who he is but rather it is a statement of the misguided, cruel and cowardly behavior of his perpetrators, he kills himself.
He is all of 12 years old. This should have been a time devoted to friends and dreams of the future, of the joys of life — not the heartache and despair that bullying breeds in its wake.
Another boy, this one 13, also posts a video. He doesn’t say a word. Instead, he holds up handwritten cards describing the living hell he is going through because of the thoughtless words and deeds of others. He manages to struggle through the isolation and pain when an outpouring of concern and love comes to him because of his posted video.
There are lessons to be learned from these two boys. Bullying is callousness and indifference to the use of words at best, or cruel and cowardly behavior at worst. It inflicts incredible pain. It is not harmless behavior. Bullying also has real consequences. It is an interaction that is not only between the bully and the picked upon, but includes those who stand aside and do nothing.
Bullying can be of words or deeds. Name-calling, snickers, snide comments, even the rolling of the eyes can be used as heartless weapons. It includes such actions as when one mimics the endeavors of the disabled or portrays the differences among us in a negative and hateful way, or simply belittling a vulnerable child, teen or even an adult. It can be as simple as posting pictures on the Internet sure to cause embarrassment, or texting cruel rumors to one another. For those who engage in bullying, it opens up the dark places in our hearts and feeds the worst in us.
Do we really build ourselves up by tormenting others, by tearing them down simply because they are somehow different than ourselves? Do we somehow stand taller when we intentionally inflict pain? Is the victim of bullying put in their place or are we really defining who we are by engaging in it?
Why do we need to harshly judge someone because of a physical disability? Does one who suffers seizures endure more pain from their physical condition, or from snickers and comments of some who witness this manifestation of their disorder? Does sexual orientation really scare us so much that we must inflict humiliation to the extent that someone would choose to end his or her life to stop this overwhelming pain? Who is the disabled one: the mentally ill person subject to ridicule and fear, or the supposedly sane one who cruelly mocks them?
It doesn’t take a great amount of courage to pick on someone when you think you have some kind of advantage. Real courage comes when you reach out a helping hand to someone who feels alone and perhaps shamed and abandoned because of something beyond their control. Real courage is helping the person to abandon those thoughts that they are alone in an uncomfortable situation. It is how we react to situations that give rise to bullying, which defines the character of those who reach out to help, as it also does those who inflict pain on others or sadly remain silent witnesses.
Unfortunately, it is the victim who pays the price. As someone once said of the evil of Nazism, evil can only exist when good people turn their backs. Bullying only exists when the good fail to confront it. There is nothing that is cool about it. It is merely weakness of the herd that allows the infliction of incredible pain upon the individual.
If judgment must be found, let it be determined by how we act and treat one another. Honor is found whenever a courageous heart triumphs the cowardly behavior of those who inflict pain.
Helpful Websites and Phone Numbers
» CARES Santa Barbara at 888.868.1649
» Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800.273.TALK (8255)
— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.