29 March 2012

Yes, this is society's problem.

Trigger warning: Extensive discussion of bullying and detailed description of specific act of violence committed against person with a disability.

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Today, a good friend of mine shared this article about a twelve year old girl with brain injury, who five days ago, on 24 March, was lured to the house of a girl she thought was her friend only to be beaten savagely by four other girls, all of whom were aware of her condition.

The victim has hydrocephalus, or the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain, and has had nine surgeries in the last twelve years. The attackers knew that.

They beat her anyway.

Why did this happen?

According to the victim's mother, because she said a boy was cute.

The victim is terrified to return to school because of threats of more violence. The mother said that other girls were calling her daughter a snitch.

(The night of the attack, the victim was forced to stay overnight at her supposed friend's house after threats of more violence if she told anyone about what had happened.)

This is not okay.

I remember middle school. It wasn't a pleasant experience for me, and there's a solid bet that for the vast majority of you reading this article now, it wasn't a pleasant experience for you either. Young people have committed suicide because of bullying during middle school, young people who might have continued to do great things with their lives, young people whose lives were cut short by the vicious malice exhibited by their peers.

And we throw money and legislation at the problem.

Anti-bullying legislation isn't going to get anything done. Legislation does not change attitudes. It does not effect a social revolution. All it does is add several lines of indecipherable legalese to obscene long books of statutes and resolutions. Strongly worded lines of legalese, perhaps. But words without action will always ring hollow.

Bullying is not "kids being kids." It's not normal or natural. It is abnormal and unnatural, and the moment you begin to think of it as normal or natural, you have implicitly accepted and condoned it. Would you want to be bullied? Would you want your child or your sibling to be bullied? The automatic, indignant response should be no. Bullying creates an environment of fear and oppression. It is no different from terrorism, but it exists at a much smaller scale. Rather than large, dispersed groups of armed extremists demanding radical socio-political change, it exists in the form of individuals whose words and actions terrorize other people in even the most intimate interactions.

Whether it is authority figures bullying those entrusted to their care or people bullying their peers, the truth of bullying is that it is an unacceptable, inherently anti-social behavior that cannot be accepted as normal or natural.

But it will not end without sweeping social revolution. I am not speaking of geopolitical social revolutions, in which regimes fall and are replaced with radical and new counterparts, but rather of the revolutionalization of societal attitudes and institutions that currently allow bullying not merely to exist but to proliferate.

Yes, this is society's problem.

We collectively bear responsibility for the suffering and deaths that have occurred as a direct result of bullying because we exist as part of the society that allowed that bullying to occur. That means we collectively are obligated to address what is a systemic problem -- the self-evident failure of our society to engender and promulgate attitudes that promote peaceful and positive co-existence with one another rather than looking to violence or threatening violence as a means of interaction with the other.

The mother of one of the attackers in this recent news story claims to be devastated by the revelation that her daughter had participated in the savage attack, which was posted to Youtube. She is quoted as saying "I just can't believe my daughter could actually do that to somebody."

In order to address the problem, we must force ourselves to face it and recognize it. Yes, your child is capable of exacting violence on another person. Or your sibling or your friend. Or you yourself. Of all of humanity's achievements, we have grown to be quite skilled at inflicting pain and suffering on one another.

There are times when humanity disgusts me.

But society only exists because people do. Thus, societal problems are ultimately a reflection of flaws in ourselves. That is why attitudes must change. Legislation can't do that. I can't do that either. (After all, one might argue, even the words on this page are just that -- only words, nothing behind them, an irony and a hypocrisy unto themselves.)

Time and effort can change attitudes. Time and effort and people can change attitudes, and thereby change society. That is how a social revolution happens.

Until society changes, these things are going to keep happening. Twelve year old girls with brain injuries, Jewish middle school students on the wrong side of town, Autistic kindergartners, Muslims in second grade...

The cycle of violence and fear exists because we allow it to exist.

Humanity disgusts me because I am only one person tucked in one small corner of the world who sometimes is rendered unable to do much more than shake and cry. Because so far, attitude's haven't changed one bit.

Yes, this is my problem and your problem. Yes, this is society's problem. But since we constitute society, that makes this our problem.

4 comments:

  1. Well said. Interesting reaction of one of the mothers but not surprising. I call it the "not my child" religion. Heard that enough when the school confronted my children's bullies. Parents also turn a blind eye to what is happening in their children's lives today and alot don't want to get involved. They don't want to tell their children "no."

    I do disagree with you however. I do think bullying is a natural state of children and it is up to the parent to correct it. It is why parenting is so important to teach your child right from wrong. Remember the book The Lord of the Flies. This is also not a new issue.

    You are right about there needing to be more than lipservice or legislation to deal with this problem. I say it starts from the top. When we see politicians, celebrities, bosses getting away with bullying and winning contests, earning huge rewards, what are children supposed to think.

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  2. Bullying has become a huge problem in society and I am glad you wrote this! The more awareness, the more people can possibly change. I have been a victim of bullying many times over. Whoever is being bullied can try to fight back, however in the end society has to change. Although Michael Jackson wrote and sang his song "Man in the Mirror" for people to make that change, I don't feel society actually realizes how they need to change. Thanks for posting!

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  3. I respectfully disagree with Elise's premise that bullying is a natural state for children. I think *survival* is a natural state and self-defense is the mechanism by which that is ensured. I think some people are more prone to aggression (likely for neurobiological reasons), but it is up to us as a society— as parents, family members and teachers— to help shape a better response. Children learn what they see.

    Lord of the Flies is a work of fiction. Even within that work, the children do not arrive on the island as blank slates who have lived in a vacuum. And it is during war time when everything is threatening to their world. Of course extreme behaviors and aggression will prevail.

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  4. Thank you for this post, I couldn't finish school because of bullying and when I mention the subject it's dismissed as a part of growing up that I couldn't cope with because I am too sensitive, even mental health professionals told me this and that I needed social skills, bullying is not really recognized as a form of abuse, it's nothing more than terror and it's wrong, it took me years to accept that it's wrong and it's our society's problem.


    I don't know if you remember but I was the one that talked about translating materials to Brazilian Portuguese for autistic people, I was going to reply but couldn't at the time so I'm going to answer here if you don't mind. I am quite new at being part of this and still didn't thought of any good ideas about this plan, if you have any suggestions or any materials that you recommend and that the authors would agree to be translated please let me know.
    It's still a very new project, all I decided at this moment is that what we lack and need here is information about Autism and self-advocacy for autistics that can't read English, with a language directed towards neurodiversity and disability rights.

    It's actually a very scary and difficult task for me but the lack of such information available in my language is harmful.

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