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It Must Get Better

October 5, 2010

When I first heard about, the suicide of Tyler Clementi (a college student who killed himself after his roommate broadcast a webcam of him making out with another man) I was furious. Very little upsets me more than bigotry and intolerance. A friend of mine on Facebook posted with equal furor. They were angry and confused why the people responsible (Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei) were getting charged with an ‘invasion to privacy’ indictments instead of being charged with manslaughter or a hate crime. I agreed, arguing that a new charge to be created- “cyberbullying“.  Too often these days I read about young adults and teenagers ending their lives due to cyberbullying. But after some reflection I’ve come to approach this topic with a cooler head. This recent rash of teen suicides is not the result of technology or bullys, it’s the result of a close-minded society that allows intolerance to breed within its borders. And it’s a mindset that must be stopped.

I think the first step we need to take is to instigate legislation towards making “digital harassment” a federal crime. States like New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland have already placed such laws, and I believe it’s time for the United states as a whole to follow suit. It’s clear that the internet drastically changes the method and consequences of harassment/bullying. Digital harassment can be done anonymously and without seeing the suffering of the victim, therefore making it that much easier for the perpetrator to commit the offense. And we’ve already seen the deadly effects that digital harassment can create. Suicide in the worst cases- but cyberbullying can also lead to lower self-esteem, depression, mental anguish, anger, stress, and the lack of desire to be social. We’re not talking about wedgies or being picked-out in dodgeball anymore. Those offenses, while heinous, don’t leave the gym. Digital harassment has viral implications- it can spread outside the school walls and can follow its victim far beyond their teenage-years. Acts with such serious consequences should be punishable with equally serious retributions. And while I do think making laws to protect others from digital harassment is a good start, it’s not the solution. The real problem highlighted here is intolerance, and that cannot be cured by punishing those in offense.

So goes the Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun:

THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

In the same wonderful wisdom of Aesop famed sex-columnist Dan Savage has reacted with much more grace and insight than I and most others have. In his September 23rd (scroll down) column Dan reacts to the suicide of 15 year-old Billy Lucas who also killed himself after being harassed for his sexuality. He says, “I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.” As a response Mr. Savage has created a YouTube channel called “It Gets Better”. On said channel he’s asked people in the LGBT community to share stories of their torment during their teenage years, and to let others know that yes- it does get better. It’s not a call for blood, it’s a call for hope. And hope is what we need. Hope that things will get better. I’m an optimist in regards to the human spirit. And while it may not be tomorrow, or the next day, or even in the next decade, I do believe that universal tolerance will arise within humanity given enough time. But we won’t get their by punishing the wicked. We will only get there by compassion and understanding. As Clementi’s parents said themselves, “Regardless of the legal outcomes, our hope is that our family’s personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity.”

And that compassion starts with our leaders. It starts with giving the LGTB community equal rights in marriage and the freedom to own their sexuality while serving our country. It’s not about having similar rights as their peers, it’s about being seen as equals among them. How can you condemn violence and abuse against homosexuals in one hand yet hold back their rights in the other?  Intolerance will breed intolerance, and we cannot set things right until we make a marked effort to change within our society. As James Balwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

Some Important Links

• If you’re a victim of cyberbullying, or know a victim of cyber bullying here are a few links you should consult.

• If you’re a parent or educator I also encourage you to explore these links to help educate children about cyberbullying. Heck, even if you’re not a parent or educator I encourage you to check out these links.

http://www.cyberbully.org/

http://us.reachout.com/

http://www.athinline.org

• Lastly, here is another link for Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better” YouTube channel. Please support it and spread the word:

http://www.youtube.com/user/itgetsbetterproject

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