Type the name “Karen Klein” into any search engine, and you’ll instantly find literally millions of news stories, tweets and videos (372,000,000 on Google Search alone, to be exact, as of 1:50 p.m. on June 24, 2012) about the soft-spoken grandmother who less than a week ago was virtually unknown outside the small town of Greece, N.Y.

Millions and millions of stories about an event that took place on a typical afternoon on a typical school bus involving typical kids in a typical town.

A grey-haired, bespectacled woman being mercilessly intimidated, insulted, harassed and humiliated. On and on it went, for more than 10 agonizing minutes that feel like an eternity. Brutal, hateful words being hurled by a pack of sniggering teenagers with no clear motive save one: their sadistic pleasure.

A bullying incident caught live and uncensored on the cell phone camera of one of the bullies.

It was a defining moment that was witnessed by viewers all over the world.

A defining moment in Klein’s life, certainly. Possibly (but by no means certainly) a defining moment in the lives of her tormentors. And a defining moment in the ever-expanding world of the Internet.

The story demonstrates the power of the Internet generally, and social media specifically, to dramatize issues of public significance. The sheer number of shares, comments and posts on the subject has helped to put a human face, for millions of viewers, on a subject that has increasingly been in the spotlight.

And that’s obviously a good thing in many respects. The video sparked sufficient outrage to bring about several undeniably positive outcomes.

Some of the boys involved in the incident apologized (if somewhat spuriously).

A fundraising web site was founded to raise cash that would send Klein on a much-deserved vacation.

And once again, people got involved in a discussion of a topic that touches virtually everyone everywhere. They’ve written about it, commented on it, discussed it among themselves. All of which means that they’re thinking about it. That is always a good thing.

I applaud these defining moments. These are the stuff of which social change is made, and we need them.

Still, I wonder.

I wonder if Klein will at some point regret becoming the unwitting poster child of bullying — of being defined, now and for all time in the public eye at least, by one 10-minute slice of a life that encompasses so many other experiences as well.

Her joys. Her triumphs. Her dignity.

I wonder because it is a question I have long asked myself as I pondered the wisdom of starting this blog to tell my own story about bullying. It’s a question that takes on a particular urgency in light of the power of the Internet to create instant celebrity.

Do I really want to be the poster child of sibling bullying?

The question involves a whole lot more than just my personal feelings about it. Other people are involved — lots of other people. Some are completely innocent. Some are guilty as sin.

And quite a few of them — most of them, in fact — are mere onlookers. They are friends, colleagues, acquaintances who are in a position to interact with me, to befriend me, to hire me, to work with me, to learn from me. And some of them, I haven’t even met yet. They are the people I will meet someday, in the future, under circumstances that have nothing whatever to do with bullying.

Is this how I want them to define me?

On the one hand, I know that because I grew up with my bullies, and because I have unusually vivid recall of events going back very early in life, I have an abundance of first-hand knowledge that could probably be very useful to an awful lot of people.

On the other hand, I don’t want the overriding image people have of me to be that of perpetual victim. I am so much more than that: wife, mother, friend, professional.

The bullying and violence I experienced while growing up most certainly left its mark — so much so that I spent many years as a young adult sorting through the painful aftermath. At one time in my life, it undoubtedly was one of the most pressing issues I had on my plate. It preoccupied my waking thoughts and invaded my dreams at night. It shaped my responses to the world and gave me a distinctive vocabulary that was rooted in pain.

But I did not want my role as victim to be the one thing that would define me for life. And so I undertook the slow, agonizing process of sorting through painful memory after painful memory with the goal of emerging, on the other side, as a person who was fully healed and whole.

And I did it. I went on to find my voice, choose a vocation, earn a graduate degree, choose a life mate. I have raised two strong, confident daughters who are completely free of the shadows that haunted my childhood. I have made friends and worked with colleagues who have no idea I was ever anything but what I am today: a successful, competent human being with as rich and varied a story to tell as everyone else I know.

This is who I am now. This is how I want people to think of me. And it’s a sacred enough personal achievement that even now … even as I write these words, knowing that somewhere out there, someone is just beginning a very painful journey of which I have intimate knowledge that could possibly help them … I wonder if I am truly ready to face the consequences.

And I wonder if Karen Klein would say the same thing.

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. Have there been times in your life when you knew you had something important to say, but withheld it because you feared the potential fallout of being in the spotlight, perhaps in a negative way? Conversely, have there times when you have come forward? If you had it to do over, would you do it again? Please share your experiences in the comment area below.