Recently, I learned about Tyler Clementi’s death. Teens, do you know who he was? He was a Rutgers University freshman, but he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another student, Molly Wei, remotely activated Ravi’s webcam and streamed footage of Clementi during a romantic encounter with a male student.
After Clementi killed himself, the story of his roommate’s despicable actions became public and I became disgusted, furious and just plain sad.
At the time, I was only angry and sad about Tyler Clementi’s story, but recently, stories of victims of bullying have become widespread. Now, I am angry about Justin Aaberg, Sladjana Vidovic, Eric Mohat and Jennifer Eyring.
Are their names familiar to you? Take a moment to Google them. You weren’t responsible for their deaths, but it’s important you know they died, and it’s important you know they were relentlessly bullied.
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Since I didn’t know these young people, I won’t suggest they had perfectly happy lives until they were bullied. I am suggesting, however, that more kindness from their peers might have been a powerful force in their lives. I am also suggesting that local teens should talk about these stories.
Teens, please read the stories of the people mentioned above and talk about them. Consider how someone could invade another person’s privacy the way Ravi violated Clementi’s. Consider technology and its impact on social interaction. Are young people not interested in living if they can’t post it, tweet it or stream it? Teenagers seem to have an increasingly alarming taste for living publicly.
Did this warp Ravi’s understanding of what should be kept private? Technology makes bullying exponentially more cruel than it was 20 years ago. With live webcasts, Facebook, text messaging and Twitter, bullies can spread humiliation faster and to a greater audience than ever before.
Consider that bullies have been around for a long time. We know that the typical bully is a sad person who is quite insecure and feels powerful belittling others. We also know that fear or disapproval of someone is not a justification for meanness. We know technology allowed Ravi and Wei to bully Clementi on a grand scale, but the problem still lies with people making choices to be cruel. On a very basic human level, a bully makes a choice to hurt someone.
Please be furious. Be disgusted and shocked.
Be sad. Acknowledge that people say and do horrible things to each other every day. Let that infuriate you. Then, make a decision to be kind. We are surrounded by cruelty, but kindness exists. Non-bullies are everywhere. There are more of us than them, but the bullies are louder.
We must find the courage to tell the bullies they’re being mean. We must question their behavior. What if all the non-bullies spoke up every time they witnessed a person being mocked or harassed?
Even if we didn’t stop the bullies, the victims would feel supported. If you’re too scared to confront a bully, why not say a kind word to the victim later that day?
What if you could be a force of kindness in your school, your town, your circle of friends? What if you smiled at someone who seemed lonely? Meanness surrounds young people, but kindness can too.
We can be kind and good to each other every day and know we have been a positive force in people’s lives.
Teens, please talk about the meanness of other teens. Find a way to be kind to others. I understand my vision of a nonbully, kindness-spreading army is terribly (wonderfully?) optimistic, and I don’t intend to oversimplify the complicated epidemic of bullying.
Nevertheless, I’m determined to “call out” bullies when I see them and be kind when I can. Please join me.
Stephanie LeClair lives in Paso Robles and has been a high school teacher for 15 years.