News broke yesterday that teenagers were arrested in connection with a young girl's suicide. Phoebe Prince, a 15-year old immigrant from Ireland, had suffered continual verbal and physical abuse--including rape--at her new high school in Massachusetts. When her situation became unbearable, she hanged herself.
Do I know Phoebe or any of the teenagers arrested? No. Do I know their parents? No. But I am a part of humanity as are they, so what affects them indirectly affects me.
Bullying is not a new social ill; people have been making fun of others for centuries. But that doesn't make it right. Nor does it mean that we should continue. In my humble opinion, it seems this harmful trend is getting worse. As you are out and about, listen to how parents talk to their children, calling them names and putting them down. Listen to how husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend interact, the tone of voice they use. It's almost as if kindness and civility have gone out of style. WHAT are we doing to each other? Isn't life hard enough? Must we add to it by hurling snide, cruel remarks?
Parents, part of your job is to teach your children they must show respect to others. The best way we can do that is by showing. Believe me, kids are watching and listening everytime you cuss out another driver or degrade a waittress or salesclerk--or your spouse. Set the example. Show them how to extend kindnesses. Show them that by pointing out something good in another person, you, in turn, feel better. Teach them understanding. Teach them civility. Teach them that bullying is wrong. These lessons should be taught at home. Being a parent is more than providing a roof over the child's head or clothes or food or summer camps. It also involves teaching them acceptable ways to interact with others. It also involves teaching them the difference between right and wrong behaviors. And it involves teaching a measure of understanding of the differences in others.
Now there's a difference between understanding and blind acceptance: I am not suggesting forgoing one's beliefs (religious, social, political) to blindly accept all manner of behaviors. But I am in favor of showing kindnesses to those who lead a different lifestyle than my rather conservative one. In short, I'm saying consider the other person's feelings. Because I do not like anyone remarking on my weight, plus-sized girl that I am, I would never say to a thin person that they need to eat more. What right do I have to make such a remark, one that would serve no purpose other than to hurt that slender person's feelings? None. Because I color my hair to hide the gray, I have no right to look down on a teenager with aqua or raspberry colored hair. I have no right to tell a teenager to pull up his pants--although heaven knows the urge is there on the tip of my tongue. That is understanding. Blind acceptance is when you silently forgo your own beliefs. For example, I do not believe in taking the Lord's name in vain. When I hear others do it, I have no problem with smiling and calmly stating that I wish they would not do that, and why. This can be done in a firm, yet non-threatening way--a way that shows you still respect them.
Isn't that what bullying boils down to? Lack of respect. We are not teaching our young to respect themselves and their bodies. Nor are we teaching them to respect others. And, frankly, hearing how children and teenagers speak to their parents, we aren't teaching them that they need to respect their elders, either (And I smile as I write this. Old people have been making that same statement for generations. Yikes! Listen to HOW old I sound!).
I write all this in memory of Phoebe Prince, a girl I will never know. A girl who rashly and desperately took a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Poor tormented soul. So young, yet in so much pain. Her death saddens me, for it speaks so ill of our society. John Donne wrote something in 1624. It is a favorite of mine and I'd like to share it with you.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main,
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.