Archives for posts with tag: moral

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.

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I was more than a little surprised the day my older sister, Carol, invited Peggy Wilson* to our house to do homework.

Peggy was a violin prodigy who had started studying the Suzuki method at an age when Carol was still studying Wednesday and Pugsley Addams’ techniques on how to torture your youngest sibling. (In our family, that meant me.) Moreover, Peggy was so accomplished on her instrument that by fifth grade she had already been the featured soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.

But that wasn’t why I was surprised to see her at our house.

No, the reason I did a double-take when Peggy Wilson walked through the door, chatting amiably with Carol as if the two had been best friends all their lives, was that for the past two months since the school year had started, I had heard nothing but what a wretched person this Peggy Wilson was — this arrogant, conceited girl who had moved to town and thereby threatened Carol’s sense of entitlement as Perpetual Teacher’s Pet.

“That Piggy Wilsow is so conceited,” Carol would fume. “The teachers think she’s so big just because she was the soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

Or, “I hate that Piggy Wilsow. She gets everything she wants just because she was a soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

Or this: “Piggy Wilsow is so stupid. She only gets good grades just because she was a violin soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

On and on it went. You get the idea. Peggy Wilson was, hands down, the absolute worst thing that had ever happened to truth, justice and the American Way — and certainly to Noelle– since time began.

A slap in the face — literally

So you can imagine my shock when Peggy Wilson walked into our living room and the first thing she said to me, in an accusing tone of voice, was this:

“I hear you think it’s funny to call me Piggy Wilsow.”

OK. I have to confess, I had laughed the first few times when Carol used that moniker. And, I had probably used it myself once or twice in conversation with Noelle.

But this had a whole different feel to it. Somehow the insulting name had become my idea, rather than Carol’s.

Speak up, my mind shrieked. Tell her the truth.

But as was often the case when Carol would twist the truth around in a way that left me looking guilty and defensive, I stuttered incoherently, despising myself for my inability to mumble even a few words that made sense.

“Oh, really?” Peggy said sarcastically. Without another word, she slapped me smartly across my cheek, while Carol smirked triumphantly.

I stood still for a moment, my cheeks burning as much from rage and humiliation as from the stinging slap. Everything in me yearned to strike her back. But I knew from experience that if I did that, Carol would incite Peggy to join her in tackling me, and then I would have a fight on my hands I couldn’t possibly hope to win.

Without another word, I turned and walked stiffly out of the room, trying to muster as much of my tattered dignity as I could. I could feel their contempt burning into my rigid spine as I made my way clumsily across the room and stumbled up the stairs.

‘You be the bigger person’

Later that evening, as I recounted the incident at the dinner table, I asked my mother to speak to Peggy about it, and perhaps to Peggy’s mother. At the very least, I hoped against hope that she might reprimand Carol.

No such luck.

Mom shrugged indifferently, a reaction I had come to expect from her by then. “Why should I?” she said. “She didn’t hurt you, so it doesn’t matter. Besides, you’ll be the bigger person for it if you just let it go.”

But I did not feel the bigger person for it — not at that moment, nor at any other time as I grew older and reflected on that incident from the perspective of time, experience and maturity.

Quite the opposite. I felt exceedingly diminished by it.

Bullies and wimps

In his online article, “Dignity Beats Back Bullies,” Domenick Maglio, Ph.D. and self-described neo-traditionalist, asserts that because so many of us have been taught similar messages about turning the other cheek and Being The Bigger Person, we are becoming a nation of bullies and wimps.

“Bullies and their counterparts, wimps, are increasing in number,” he writes. “This should not be surprising given what we tell our kids. The child is told not to retaliate in self-defense because if he does he is the same as the bully. He is taught to ignore or accept the bullying until the perpetrator gets tired of abusing him and goes away. The problem with this is it doesn’t work.”

When a bullied child is pressured to “understand” and “befriend” the bully, it merely compounds the dynamic that has already been developing. The aggressive child, Maglio says, “sees this as weakness and becomes more emboldened, while the compliant child is further humiliated.” Furthermore, it solidifies the roles of victim-aggressor in the eyes of others, who may decide that it’s okay to join the aggressor in tormenting the victim.

Maglio further observes that all too often, school authorities take the easy way out by treating bullies and their victims equally.

“It is easier to avoid a comprehensive, time-consuming investigation [that would] get to the truth,” he writes. “It is more P.C. and less disruptive to give each child an equal consequence, avoiding all the problems of judging who was the initiator, eliminating parents being irate in defense of their child.”

‘Strike back’

In other words, Maglio suggests, a kind of pervasive moral cowardice prevails, so that even those who are in a position of authority tend to take cover rather than taking a meaningful and appropriate stand.

Among his more provocative suggestions: Teach your child to hit back when provoked.

“Bullying is part of human nature,” he says. “It has and it will continue to exist. Society, with proper standards and expectations, can keep it under control. Without an understanding of how our current practice of coddling and appeasing is fostering abusive behavior, we will continue this epidemic of bullying.”

In light of Maglio’s observations, I ask myself, all these years later, Should I have struck Peggy Wilson back? The answer, given my particular circumstances, is still a resounding no.

Not that she didn’t deserve it. She did. But she and Noelle together no doubt would have subjected me to a far worse drubbing than a mere slap if I had retaliated — and I didn’t deserve that. Moreover, it was clear from my mother’s response that there would be no consequences whatsoever for either one of them.

Another way

Still, l think Maglio is onto something. Maybe there’s a larger lesson here, and it has something to do with each one of us — you, me, teachers, parents, everybody — deciding to be neither bully nor wimp nor heedless bystander. Maybe it means that we all need to develop and heed our own internal moral compass that can determine the right course of action. Perhaps only then can we hope that onlookers and others not directly involved will intervene and stop leaving it to the bully and victim to “sort it out for themselves.” Given everything we know about the dynamics of bullying, and how it escalates over time if allowed to continue unchecked, such a moral compass seems to be our best hope of dealing with the issue of bullying.

*a pseudonym

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. What do you think? Should children be taught to fight back? Should schools, parents and others take a stronger stance against bullying? Do bystanders have a moral obligation to intervene if they can? Please share your thoughts and ideas.