Cyber bullies deserve our anger--and our compassion
When I heard two girls were bullying my niece, hurling virtual insults at her and posting doctored photos of her on Facebook from the comfort of your laptops plastered with cute stickers of unicorns and peace signs (you never know)—I wanted to tell tell them that they really suck. That they are Class A cowards to meticulously plot and execute such a nasty attack over social media without even meeting my niece face-to-face so she could at least defend herself. Eighty-eight percent of teens have had experiences of cyber bullying, and this ubiquitous and hostile act doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.
Because I love my niece and want to protect her, I wanted to say these things and more to the cyber bullies, but then I thought, wouldn’t I be just like them?
I was a teen once and remember feeling alone and thinking nobody in the world understood me. At the time, I didn’t have the words to express what that dark place felt like. And, anyway I thought there was nobody around to listen. Sometimes the pain inside cuts so deep that we want others to feel bad like we do. Although, initially it feels good to bring somebody down, in time, those black feelings creep back in, and we need an even bigger ‘high’ to get to where we think we should be. Like drinking too much or eating too much junk food, we soon come down and feel even worse the next day.
Why do we eventually feel worse when you’re nasty to someone?
Humans are social beings and need to feel they belong. Like a flower that thrives on sunlight and water, we thrive on kindness. When we’re mean to others we debase ourselves, put up a wall and consequently become a little less human—a little less like ourselves.
“We come into the world as the result of others’ actions,” says the Dalai Lama, the 14th spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. “We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
I have no idea what crap these bullies are going through at home and, who knows, maybe they’ve been bullied too. Maybe they followed a dare or just thought it would be fun to take someone who was popular, smart, funny, pretty and creative, down a few notches. Or perhaps they were simply bored.
I wondered that I would say to these two girls if I could speak with them. I decided I wouldn't insult to try to make them feel small, but would probably say the following: Imagine for a moment your older self; say you’re 20 or 30. Yes, you will reach that age eventually. Imagine that your son or daughter asks you what you remember about being a teenager. Is this something you might one day boast about to your children? Grandchildren? Friends? Is bullying another girl on social network sites something you’re going to be proud of when you’re older? I didn’t think so.
The other day I read a speech that George Saunders, an American writer, gave for the graduating class of Syracuse University 2013. "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness,” he says. “Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” He refers to a girl in his seventh grade class. “She wore blue glasses,” he says, “had an unfortunate habit of sucking her hair when she was nervous, and was the butt of most kid's jokes.” Although he adds he was pretty nice to her compared to other kids, he feels he could have been nicer.
Chances are the people you remember most are the ones who showed you kindness.
So why not try it girls? Hashtag it. Post it. Do it for reals. It’s not an easy thing, I know, but you gotta admit it’s original. Go on. Surprise yourselves. See if the pain in your heart doesn’t shrink just a little.