by Dick Mac
Yesterday's Sunday edition of The Sioux City Journal featured full-page anti-bullying editorial.
The editorial was prompted by the suicide of 14-year-old Sioux City, Iowa, citizen Kenneth Weishuhn Jr.
Weishuhn came-out to his family about a month ago. Between the time he came out and April 15th, according to friends and family, he suffered intense harassment such as vicious online comments and threatening phone calls.
I know that pre-teens and teenagers are tough on each other. As a teenager, I both suffered moments of derision and took part in bad-mouthing someone weaker than me. I think to some degree we are all confronted by that decision in our youth and "going with the flow" can be easier than being brave and sticking-up for a weaker person. Never was the bullying I encountered, nor the bullying I witnessed around me, in the early 1970s, as vicious as the stories I hear today; and technology was not very advanced, making it difficult to spread that hatred any further than that circle of friends at that moment.
That is not to say that the bullying of forty years ago was any less hateful or any more forgivable. The fact that it was so limited in scope and audience may have played a role in the bullied being able to overlook and move past the bullying.
There is something insidious about bullying, name-calling as we referred to it during my youth. We say: "it's only words." You know: "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." But, I can tell you that it runs deep when a group of the people you most respect, enjoy and feel connected to, have turned on you and decided to focus on your less impressive features: pimples, a lack of masculinity, your clothes, your lack of physical prowess, etc.
I always laughed along with the crowd, knowing it would pass and was restricted to this circle of people. I also enjoyed a certain amount of dignity and self-confidence. Yes, I was a fag-gy teenager. I had long hair, I was sensitive, I liked odd clothes, I was precocious, I took an interest in things outside my community. I was bisexual, and I was relatively young to come-out in that era.
I could run away from the bullying, from the hatred, and I did. I made friends outside my neighborhood and spent as much time as possibly getting away from the people who disliked me. The silver lining was seeing the world (or at least the city, region, and country); visiting and hanging-out in places my peers never considered or knew about, meeting people who were smart, rich, attractive, and funny.
With the internet incredible communications system we now have, it is not as easy to vanish into another neighborhood or even the demi-monde.
I know people who think the focus on bullying is ridiculous. There are people I know well who think that kids will be kids and everyone is bullied.
I can say confidently, that every person I know with this attitude was a bully in their youth, was never personally bullied, got away with hurting smaller, weaker people, and/or is still a bully today.
Those are the people who need to read editorials like this, and they are the people least likely to read it.
To get parents to stop their kids from bullying, there will have to be a dramatic incident that hurts the bully, instead of the bullied. The bullied experience dramatic things all th etime, up to and including suicide. The bullies are never inconvenienced.
Fortunately that is changing. We see the Tyler Clementi case where two fellow students spied on, and shared video footage, of a gay college freshman in a sexual encounter. He was so humiliated by the incident that he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. His perpetrators were arrested, and one went to trial.
Believing his actions were not related to Clementi's death, Dharun Ravi refused a plea-bargain, went on trial, was found guilty and faces 10 years in prison. I'll bet the parents in his neighborhood, those who know him, will tell their kids to refrain from bullying the weak.
How many suicides will it take for all parents to tell their children to defend the weak?
How many young people need to be imprisoned before the bullying stops?
What do you tell the kids in your life?