The topic of bullying is not just on the minds of folks in the autism community. Stories of young people who have committed suicide after being the victims of bullying are all over the news currently. Even Huffington Post is focusing on bullying in a series of stories: David Nichtern's piece, Paul Katz's piece, Tara Dublin's piece, and David Fassler's piece, all running concurrently.
Why the interest now, all of a sudden? Is this the new hot-button topic? I don't think that the private interest in bullying is new, but more people are talking about it, from bloggers to news outlets. The biggest difference appears to be for the news media, though. Googling bullying gives over 13,000 hits for news stories in the last week. A year ago, though, there were only 491 news stories over the same week period. The discussion of bullying IS more prevalent in the news by a wide margin.
It isn't just the media, though. More people are talking about bullying, period. Compare the news coverage to the blog coverage of bullying. There were a lot of blogs on bullying a year ago: 34,000 hits. Flash forward to this past week, and there are over 60,000 blog hits on bullying.
Why the change? A string of suicides, along with a string of beatings and deaths, is surely driving the media's attention. It probably doesn't hurt that Lindsey Lohan isn't making much in the way of news right now, and I haven't heard a peep from Paris Hilton, have you? So, no celebrity disasters signals dead air time for the news. And more people, for no doubt many reasons, are personally willing to speak up about it on their own blogs. It's LOLcats gone viral, in a way. It's bandwagoning. Nothing wrong with that, when it's jumping on the right bandwagon for all the right reasons.
Seeing people like this family (thanks, Orac for covering the story), who've been heaping abuse on a little girl dying of Huntington's, also rings a clarion call to action. The sad fact is that there are a lot of callous, cold, and downright mean folks out there; the internet provides a bully pulpit for many of these people, and you can easily wander the interwebz and find nastiness in too many places.
You can also find plenty of folks willing to wear their nastiness out in the open, like the family linked to in the above paragraph. Ah, but are the folks who comment on those stories, wanting to inflict bodily harm on the bullies, any less problematic? When are violence and threats of violence warranted?
The meak, despite biblical assurances to the contrary, are unlikely to inherit the earth. We cannot turn our backs on those who have been victimized, and confronting bullies with meakness will certainly not curb the bully's behavior. Go ahead and turn the other cheek and see if it doesn't result in another blow to the head.
Violence and the threat of violence, though, will not solve the problem. Societal censure won't do any good for those who are sociopaths; people have to care what others think of them in order to be willing to change the censured behavior. In order to effectively create a social system that condemns across all walks of life any acts of bullying, terrorizing, and abuse, we have to decide as a society that it is never ever acceptable and then we must create the systems that will punish that behavior. Striking back at your tormentors in actions just as vicious as theirs certainly isn't going to win you any moral high ground. And one of the questions becomes how do you deal with those who harm you without becoming them?
As long as our best selling movies are action movies filled with blowing things up and horror movies that glorify murder, sadism, and the undervaluing of life, it's going to be very hard to change the culture that allows bullying to flourish.
In the end, like all societal change, this, too, must change at the individual level first. We must alter our own behavior to not act as bullies. We must curb our own desires to act out violently and with rage. And we must absolutely commit ourselves to NEVER be bystanders to abuse and bullying. All it takes to break the bystander effect is one person. One person who is willing to step forward and say NO. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. People willing to stand up also take great risks for their own safety and well-being. And yet, if given a choice between standing up for what I believe in and risking all or cowering in the corner, turning a blind eye to the injustices of the world and living a long, safe life, I choose the former: let me live and die with my integrity intact.
If people really want to change bullying, change society, then some folks have to be willing to tilt at the windmills. What matters in the end is how you lived.