Friday, June 22, 2012

A Lack of Honey, A Lapse in Civility

Half a million dollars.

That's how much the public believes ten minutes (probably months, really) of bullying is worth. 

You've all heard the story of Mrs. Klein by now.  You know, the 68 year-old, grandmotherly woman who endured the laughter, jeering, and generally disgusting behavior of some middle school kids who were looking to see how far they could push her before she bounced them all like basketballs.  You've read about the public's outrage at the students, the parents, the school, and even at Klein herself for allowing this to happen.

What is shocking to me is that it was at all shocking to any of you.  In a way, it makes me glad that you are still able to be shocked by the ever more ridiculous behavior bullies feel entitled to vomit on unsuspecting or worse, expectant, victims. Why are we even shocked that this is happening? It happens all the time. 

What is the purpose of it?  What does he, the kid, gain from it?  Notoriety among his friends?  A fleeting youtube infamy? (BTW, those kids are going to have to change their names...there's no way they can stay in their communities and try to live this down, they're already receiving death threats. Yeah, THAT'S going to solve the problem.)  A brief feeling of superiority? A sense of entitlement -  like HE is the star of his own movie, and we are all the objects of his derisive comic genius?

What they created is now...entertainment.  We, as a nation, were...entertained by this story. (Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little.)  It gave us a stoic hero, a group of dastardly villains, and a cause celebre that we could point at and claim, "I WOULD NEVERNEVERNEVER DO THAT/ALLOW THAT/SUPPORT THAT!! Harumph, harumph, harumph. Why, I'll share that awful video with all of my friends to warn them that this kind of shocking thing is going on!  I'll send ten bucks to that poor woman to send her on a nice vacation. See, I'm doing MY part!"

What environment have we given a child that he believes that this destruction of another human, regardless of her stoicism, age, gender, or general grandmotherliness, is entertainment?  I see ten thousand fingers pointing at ten thousand causes, but what have I, WE, YOU done to solve the problem?

Our politicians curse at each other, interrupt each others' public discourse, and generally play the media like Eddie VanHalen plays the guitar.  And the media? Oh, she weeps...with joy, with outrage, with disgust, with SHOCK.  How dare...harumph, harumph, harumph.  To quote Don Henley's most excellent song, Dirty Laundry, 
I make my living off the Evening News Just give me something-something I can use People love it when you lose, They love dirty laundry 

We could point at government, at war, at schools, at home environment and parents, at movies, at video games, at a absence of real human contact coupled with the faux contact technology gives us, the increasingly dangerous antics and one-upsmanship our online communication methods encourage. We keep pointing at all these causes, but you know the cause.

It's us. Me. You. WE DID THIS.

Every time you laughed at someone's goofy pain, every time I stood by and let someone get picked on, every time we passed the video along to our friends, we caused ourselves to stop BEING shocked and began ACTING shocked. WE MADE A MESS and now we're all pointing at it and yelling, "HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MESS?!? WHOSE MESS IS THIS???  IT'S SHOCKING! Harumph, harumph, harumph."

Do we really have to agree on a cause before we agree on a solution?  I don't think so.

See, it's all about choices.

What's the real function of behavior?  ANY behavior?  It's a means to an end.  We learn first by seeing, then by doing what we believe will get us the desired result - whether that's calling someone fat, having someone make you a sandwich, or saving a kitten from a burning building.  We act in ways we believe will achieve the ends we WANT. We're all animals, just ask the mice (they're in control of this whole experiment anyway - just ask Douglas Adams).  We all just want to get our cheese on.


Now, we could debate all day about which ends we all SHOULD want, but let's not fight that war.  It's long and pointless and ends with people dying. Instead, let's concentrate on the choice of HOW to get what we want.

We could choose civility instead.

There was one bit of that ten-minute long parade of vomitously poor choice-making  that made me raise an eyebrow and hope for a moment that the stoic Mrs. Klein would make a worthy comeback. Admittedly, she kept her grace and held her tongue more than I might have been able to, but what really caught my ear was when she chose her words carefully and reminded the students with more dignity than I could've mustered, "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything."

Graceful ammunition, that, but too little, too late. FOLKSY HOMILY ALERT: When my Grandma Thompson caught me mouthing off or being a bully or feeling a little too entitled as a child, she always told me, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

I was kind of a snot, (but only in my head), and I used to think (loudly), "Why would you want to catch flies anyway? Ewww." Yeah, I missed the boat on that one as a kid.  But once I figured out that you could achieve the same ends without hurt feelings, fisticuffs, or all out war, I had the world on a string.  A smile and a kind word could make the stubbornest doors open. Dimples help, but that's not the point. Whatever your flies are, you just need to figure out the right kind and amount of honey to spread.  And them flies stay caught, brothers and sisters.  They stay caught good and long.

What I really would've liked to have seen was, at the first tentative can-I-really-get-away-with-this insult, Mrs. Klein spreading the honey of kindness on thick. Really thick. Like with a shovel.  I would have liked to see her coat those kids with kindness so thick that they the next snide remark was choked back for fear of a diabetic coma. I know some masters of the honey-shovel, and trust me, they can make it happen.  You don't work as a teacher for long before you figure out who has the skillz to tell someone to go to hell and make them look forward to the trip.  Take heed, brothers and sisters. Take heed when you see a master at work.

I could argue that we all need to be kinder, more sympathetic, altruistic, action-oriented people.  Yes, I could.  Baby steps.

How about, for now, we just make the choice to stop letting people's ignorant vinegar be our entertainment.  Let the world see us making that choice.  Mahatma Ghandi said it pretty well.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

BE THE CHANGE. Make good choices.


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