It’s almost a rite of passage. Someone calls you a name in gym class, perhaps taunting you for being fat or uncoordinated. Or maybe it was math class. You were brilliant and a few kids were jealous of your ability to multiply in your head faster than they could punch in the first number on their calculators. They hurled words like geek, fatty, ugly, loner, freak—all because they wanted to make themselves feel better. You didn’t understand. Maybe you thought that you could reinvent yourself, be cool, be pretty, be talked about in a good way. But nothing worked. They still called you out your name. Still failed to see what you saw in yourself: a genuinely cool person.
For many, being bullied is an unfortunate side effect of adolescence. A recent study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics found that nearly half, 43% to be exact, of all high schoolers admitted to being bullied. And another 50% admitted to being on the giving end of this painful practice. Although most people equate bullying to those awkward middle school years, the Josephson’s study shows that it carries over into later years. But why?
Michael Josephson, the institute’s president, blames the recent rise in young adult bullying on increased usage of the Internet. In an interview with “Yahoo! News,” he commented, “It’s the difference between punching someone and stabbing him. The wounds are so much deeper,” and far more permanent.
Recently, there have been a rash of suicides by teens and young adults that have reopened the conversation around bullying. This past September, Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clemente, killed himself after his sexual encounter with another man was broadcast on the Internet. Clemente’s roommate even took to Twitter to discuss his “prank.” After he found out about the video, Tyler Clemente logged onto Facebook, posted his goodbyes, and jumped from the George Washington Bridge.
Last year, 11-year-old Georgia resident Jaheem Herrera hung himself after being relentlessly bullied at school. His mother had filed several complaints with the school, but it did not stop Jaheem’s tormentors. After being called gay and a snitch for doing the right thing and calling attention to his situation, Jaheem couldn’t take it anymore. He ended his young life and broke his family’s heart.
These horrible incidents made me wonder if the actual bullies aren’t the only ones to blame.
Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook have become ground zero for snark. It seems like the meaner and more vicious the comments are, the more popular (and profitable) the person becomes. Bloggers like Perez Hilton and Sandra Rose, and sites such as MediaTakeOut and Gawker, have made their bones taking shots at celebrities. And normal folks take to their Twitter and Facebook accounts daily, trying to out do each other, upping the snark ante with every tweet.
Lately, it seems like people are more concerned with going in, than with preserving others’ feelings. The anonymity of the interwebs has bred a generation of “Internet thugs,” those who pop shit freely online, but would never think to say such controversial or aggressive things in person. At times, it seems like our collective ids have completely taken over, and, once online, we transform into ultra-hyperbolic versions of ourselves.
Previously, I’ve written about the power Twitter users can wield over their audiences. Last month, I wrote about 50 Cent joking about killing his son’s mother over child support payments. Most agreed that Fiddy’s “joke” was not only in bad taste, but also potentially dangerous because it made light of violence against women. Normalizing violence is never a good look, so why do we do it so freely every single day?
Last week, the Internet exploded when Marie Clare published the extremely offensive blog post, “Should Fatties” Get a Room?” In it, Maura Kelly goes on a rant against overweight people, questioning whether or not it’s acceptable to center a sitcom around two overweight characters in a relationship. In her article, Kelly asserts that she can’t even stomach watching “fat” people walking across a room, let alone making out on camera. While she was derided for her distasteful commentary, the fact that a major magazine for women even allowed her essay to be published, speaks volumes. Increasingly, we have become more tolerant of downright ugliness. From political talk shows—which often times devolve into screaming matches—to angry and insensitive comments on this and other websites, being mean seems to increasingly be how we deal with one another.
Somewhere between the blog posts, tweets, and snark-filled comments found on most websites, lies the real issue. We are insecure. Our society is built on competition—social Darwinism if you will. The strongest, fastest, cleverest people are exalted, while the rest are left to struggle. That’s a scary proposition. Sometimes, even subconsciously, we compete with others, tearing them down if we sense even the slightest threat (threat to ourselves, to what we consider “normal”). Whenever I feel myself getting ready to unleash a sarcastic rant on someone, I try to stop, and remember Marianne Williamson’s words,
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure . . . as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I wonder just how different our society would be if we had a higher sense of community. And I wonder if we’d lose so many young lives if we were taught to remember that if our neighbor shines, we all shine. Perhaps there’d be less going in and a lot more giving props. Hmm. Imagine that.