I’m fond of old cemeteries. They’re quiet.
Newer graves show off flowers or flags. There is someone still alive who cared about and remembers the person beneath the soil. A wife, a son, a grandchild, or a friend.
The older graves are barren. Dusty. Sometimes full of weeds. They get that way quickly. It takes just a few decades before everyone who once knew and loved that person is dead themselves. A few dozen years more and nobody will even remember their name.
Three graves together, nearly a century old: a child “Taken Too Soon“, a “Beloved Wife And Mother” dead the same year, and a year later the father “Resting With God and His Angels“. Was there an accident? A suicide borne from grief?
I doubt anyone alive knows more about them than me, a stranger walking by, reading the etched stone. Everything else they were is gone.
Meanwhile, the Living…
Karen Klein, a elderly bus monitor earning about $15,000 a year, was captured on video being harassed and bullied by the children on her school bus. The kids mocked her for her weight, her looks, her clothes, and even the deaths of her family members. Her son committed suicide ten years prior, and those comments reduced her to tears.
You can watch the video if you wish, but I don’t recommend it. I’ve been online a long time, and I’ve seen some amazingly bizarre, disgusting, horrible, vile, brutal, weird, and crazy things. With just words and insults, this video ranks as one of the worst of them.
People are raising money to give this poor woman a vacation. Their $5,000 goal was obliterated, and they are at $550,000 and climbing. It’s a nice gesture, and I’m happy for her, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about what happened.
Kids on a Bus
This woman still endured a horrible situation that nobody addressed until a video of it went viral. She had been bullied by these kids before, and nobody took action. These kids thought it was acceptable to threaten and mock this woman to tears. None of that has changed.
It’s easy to point fingers at the parents, or at the kids, or at the administrators, or… anybody. But the real anger is because stories like this make us doubt ourselves. How could one human just be so hurtful to another?
That’s why the donation is so high – what happened to Karen taps into our collective guilt over how poorly we can behave as human beings. We’re trying to apologize on behalf of humanity for every time we were cruel as children, mean to someone who didn’t deserve it, or stood by and didn’t defend someone who needed it.
We’re not apologizing to Karen, we’re apologizing to ourselves. To the universe. “I know we’re a mean little species sometimes, but we don’t want to be, and we can do much better than that… right?”
We know this part of us. We know it, and we hate it.
We can’t make it go away. We can do things like financing Karen’s retirement, and supporting anti-bullying organizations like the It Gets Better Project and Stand for the Silent, but the biggest thing we can do is always be on guard against that cold piece of ourselves. We’re too often focused on the race, the grind, the competition, and the acquisition. None of those things endure, but they often fuel the part of us the kids on the bus put on display.
I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.
You’re not going to matter forever. In a hundred years someone may lovingly place flowers upon your grave. They might do it many times, but eventually they will stop coming and the flowers will give way to weeds.
The only time in which you matter is right now. Right where you are. To the people around you.
How you treat them, and the impact you have on their lives in this brief sliver of time together, is your real legacy.
Have a care with others. Never back down from defending someone who needs it.
Use these moments well. They’re all you really have.
Crystal Glenn says
These are very worthy causes to join. They help serve as a reminder that we all need to treat each other with respect and teach our children to do the same.
Jeff Moriarty says
We have to teach others to stand up for doing the right thing, and make sure we always do it ourselves. Even… especially… when it is hard.
Melanie Baker says
As a friend noted, she could see that happening on her bus as a kid, too. Mob mentality isn’t new; we just have more recording devices now. And it only takes one “strong” one to start it.
Perhaps there is a collective guilt at work that’s resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Perhaps it’s an admission from thousands of people that there was that one time when they should have spoken up, and didn’t. Or, worse, when they were part of the mob. I say amen to the cell phone cameras. Will people be so eager to jump into the bullying fray if they know that eye is turned on them?
There are other ways you can look at it, too. People who are just genuinely sorry something terrible happened to an innocent person, even if they had nothing to do with it. People who, like most of us, don’t have the answers to the hard questions, but want a stranger to know we’re not all like that, the world isn’t all like that.
Because, really, how *do* you instill humanity into children? Whose job is it, if not the parents or administrators? Between those two groups that’s covering most of the adult exposure kids get. Even those of us without kids are responsible, too. Everyone influences someone, and kids are watching and learning even when you’re not paying attention.
So maybe that donation campaign is an admission of guilt. Maybe it’s a self-imposed fine for not doing better in the past. But I don’t think anyone who’se seen the campaign, let alone the video (I refuse to watch it; I’ve read more than enough about its contents) can escape having it come to mind some day in the future when they come across another, similar situation. And if you’re *right there* you can’t just throw money at it, but you can remember how the whole situation made you feel before, and you can do something to be proud of, not just feel retroactively guilty about.
Jeff Moriarty says
The reason it seems like guilt to me is how strong everyone is reacting. I couldn’t watch the video either, but there are videos of people being treated far worse than this in most senses of the word. Even videos showing people getting beaten up don’t usually generate a reaction *this* strong.
It’s an unwashed cruelty of spirit these kids are showing, and it disgusts a lot of people in a way that even physical violence doesn’t.
Melanie Baker says
The reason for the strength of reaction is that in the case of physical violence, everyone gets the same thing, basically. The perpetrator just starts swinging. The assault isn’t “customized” to the person being abused.
This is not the case with verbal/psychological assault. Certainly, there are some general insults that are societally acceptable. (There’s an article on Jezebel relating to this story outlining how we’ve built a society in which it’s just fine to hate and abuse fat people, especially women.) With verbal taunts, the worst part of it is that it’s “crafted”. Before saying anything, the perpetrator(s) considers what the most hurtful thing to say to that victim is. Sure, there are lots of people you could call fat. But referencing her son who died by suicide? That’s specific. It didn’t come out of anyone’s mouth by accident. That demonstrates an analytical process with the specific goal of causing as much psychological damage as possible.
And societally we don’t want to consider that kids are capable of that. We know adults are, but children are supposed to be “pristine”. Any other kid can call bullshit on that, but children are supposed to be smaller, sweeter, and more innocent, and when we see evidence that that’s not the case, it freaks people out because we can’t deny that they didn’t get that way by themselves. With very rare exceptions, what kids become, they’re taught.
Especially true now that the Sandusky trial has shed light on the evil that so many people ignored and enabled. Those people all deserve a special place in hell.