Social vs Individual bullying

I’m glad that this issue of bullying has come to a head. Not because I’m in any way happy to read yet another story of some poor kid who got tormented until he dangled himself from a beam in the closet, but because it got everything public. Finally, the right people are starting to notice that bullying is a real issue, not just some “rite of passage”.

Yet that’s the very thing that’s become the response in many quarters. Bullying isn’t really a big deal, they’ll say, it’s just something that kids do. The problem here isn’t the bullying, it’s that the victims needed thicker skins. Oh sure, it’s terrible that they died, but they’re just aberrations, or indicative of a generation of kids who just can’t handle jerks at school.

I found myself talking about this with FotR (Friend of the Razor) Ryan, and there came this notion of Social, as opposed to Individual, bullying.

Individual bullying is unfortunate, but it really is a natural product of youth. Big kids are going to pick on younger kids, not everyone’s going to like each other, and at some point you’ll have someone who picks on someone else. I went through it, probably a lot of you did, too. For some it was probably worse than others (and to be honest in my later years I picked on some younger fellas…), but it really is something that happens all over the place, usually without resulting in suicide.

Reason being, we’re talking about one kid picking on another kid, sometimes multiple on one side or the other. It’s a largely self-contained issue. As long as the victim can avoid some of the jerks at school, that one kid on the football team, or the older kid down the street, then all’s well. There’s an identified enemy, someone to point at, confront. It’s a single situation that can be resolved, or even run away from entirely, and the victim can go about his or her life unmolested.

That isn’t the case with these gay teens. The issue isn’t just that one asshole that yelled “faggot” or threw them into a locker. It’s that these are young men and women dealing with a crisis of self, feeling isolated and alone, unsure about their feelings and definitely worried that the world won’t accept them. It’s a fragile time.

Throw them in a situation where they’re getting harassed and humiliated, attacked, and hated either in school or in the community and this only intensifies the fear and feeling of isolation. They begin to feel that the world really is against them, that there’s no place for someone like them and that their feelings have left them separate from everyone else, and that “everyone else” doesn’t like them very much.

What we’re seeing isn’t teenagers killing themselves because of a few idiots calling them names, it’s teenagers killing themselves because they’ve come to believe that there’s no place for them in the world, and that coming out has only caused them pain. They’re not escaping harassment from a couple people at school, they’re running away from a world that they feel has rejected them. The difference is hard to overstate.

That’s why the president’s and Joel Burn’s messages are so important. These kids need to know that the world isn’t against them, that they do have a place on this little blue marble, that things will get better if they can just stick through it. That’s the point of the purple shirts and accessories that day.

Maybe the word “bullying” isn’t right here. It conveys the wrong image. It sounds minuscule and fairly benign, whereas this is anything but.

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