Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bully is as bully does

There has been a lot of talk decrying student bullying in the days following the suicide of a young man whose college roomie decided to videotape his private activities and post said video on the world wide web.

Trust me, I'm right there with the anti-bullying crowd. But I think the problem goes way deeper than that. I suspect it was less about bullying, and more about a couple of things I find even more disturbing: Doing unto others what they see modeled for them by the adults in their everyday lives... and plain old stupidity.

What's a kid to think when he or she moves through the day with the likes of Glenn Beck calling for Pelosi to be poisoned, or the literati making equally irresponsible suggestions to solve for Sarah Palin? When a vile Kansas crackpot who gives Christianity a bad name can extend his 15 minutes all the way to the Supreme Court? When the path to national leadership is paved with innuendo and quasi-truth as expressed in attack advertising from left, right and everywhere in between?

As for sheer cluelessness, some wise soul once cautioned us never to attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. I suspect that's a relevant thought here. One need not venture far into the blogosphere to find evidence that some people seem to literally lose their heads when it's just them and a computer screen.

We may never know what (if anything) was going through the minds of the kids whose unconscionable actions set this tragedy in motion, as their lawyers have surely by now filled them with get-out-of-jail talking points. And maybe they were indeed motivated by hate for a sexual preference other than their own. But I can easily picture them encountering others' private moment, thinking "wow, this is wild!" and pulling out the flip-cam with no greater thought of the consequences than the hope of becoming famous for posting the next multi-million-view YouTube phenomenon.

So is there a lesson to be learned? Sure. We must recognize that free and easy access to the tools of communication in the digital age does not necessarily grant us the wisdom to use those tools responsibly. Or put more simply, please, find a brain cell somewhere in your head to engage before your fingers hit the keyboard. Don't be stupid.

And if we wish our young people to behave civilly toward their peers, perhaps we should try it ourselves.

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