Lessons in Irreparable Damage

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

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I know I'm about a week behind on this, but I never promised breaking news on this blog. It took me a few days to process, to feel myself get all mixed up between angry and horribly sad, to calm down, and to get angry all over again.  I know this has been all over the news, the internet, everywhere... the suicide of Tyler Clementi.  If this is old hat to you or too boring or painful or meaningless to you to listen to right now,  that's okay.  You can go and need not read further.  But as long as you're here, I'll have my say, if it's all the same.  And even if it isn't.

If you're one of the few people who haven't heard about this, I'll give you a very brief summary.  Tyler Clementi, a 19 year old college student in his freshman year at Rutgers University, was made the brunt of a very cruel joke in which a couple of other students (his roommate and his roommate's friend)  managed to record him having sex with a man on two different occasions.   Tyler Clementi  wasn't yet "out".  These two students then posted these encounters on the internet, for the world to see.  Tyler, who obviously did not have the strongest sense of self at the time, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.  You can read all the news stories online... there are tons.  Here's a link to get you started, if you so desire.  

Now, as I said, obviously this kid didn't have a lot of self esteem and may have even been dealing with identity issues, since he hadn't come out to his friends and family yet.  I've read the arguments (and could've made them all myself in my sleep), and yes, I'm sure those two students didn't intend for Clementi to kill himself.  And yes, of course he would've had to have been nursing a pretty fragile mental state in order to take that final step.  But does that excuse the complete and total disregard for another person's sense of self worth and privacy that these two people exhibited?  Aren't we, as supposedly sentient creatures, responsible for our actions?  Responsible for thinking through the potential consequences before we act?  They didn't just tease him, friends.  This was no mild razzing, all in good fun.  Let me repeat... THEY POSTED VIDEO ON THE INTERNET OF HIM HAVING SEX WITH ANOTHER MAN .  

Excuse me, but what about that does not scream sick and cruel?  What the holy hell is wrong with people?  Just because we have the internet, does that mean we have to use it to humiliate each other mercilessly?  Of course, I shouldn't be shocked.  It's what humans do; some humans, anyway.  We use whatever means necessary to destroy each other.  

Which brings me to my point... that I'll try to get out succinctly, even though all I want to do right now is scream and cuss and throw things.  

We have a responsibility to each other and to the world around us.  I know not everyone is taught that, but here in America, at least, there is very little excuse.  They cover bullying in public school in, what, kindergarten?  First grade?  Then again in middle school?  And again in high school in some places (although by then they call it "hazing")?  So effing STOP IT already!  Get over yourselves!  Stop thinking the only way to have fun and feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel like crap!  So what if you "didn't know" he would commit suicide?  SO WHAT?  You have no idea what another person is going through when you're slinging around your evil words and well-planned modes of degradation.  You won't know how such a psychological attack is going to be received - how your target is going to deal with it, whether or not they're going to break.  But you know it's going to hurt.  Because, well, isn't that the point?

So, congratulations, bullies and jerks and ignorant, hateful people of the world!  You broke another one!  Are you proud?  Can't you just feel the power?  This one is broken beyond repair... indeed, beyond anyone's reach now.  And yes, even if you didn't "mean to" -- you. are. responsible.  Chew that up and swallow it and let this one final ultimate consequence teach you a lesson for once in your life.  Because, just as I'm sure that the ones who do break, the ones who snap under the pressure and fall apart for good (because we all know we can't take it back now!), are short on self esteem and all out of strength, I am also certain that the hecklers and instigators have been building up their senses of self at the expense of others for a very long time. It takes practice and ingenuity and a whole lot of spite to pull off this kind of grand humiliation.  This wasn't the first for these tormentors, I'm sure.  This was only the biggest. 

I can't talk about this much more.  I am literally sick over the whole thing, and over the depths of cruelty to which humans will stoop to make themselves feel big.  Here's the Ellen video.  It's on Youtube, but in case you haven't seen it yet...

The last final question - the one we always ask in the end... our plea to all that is good and holy... why?  Why.

There are a million answers, and none of them satisfy.


Sarah Franz-Wichlacz said...

agreed.... have you heard about this? reason 456 why i love dan savage :D


firespark said...

No, I hadn't heard about that! This is great! Thanks for sharing it, hon. It's good to see some reassurance being given to those who may very well be living their weakest moments.

juliababyjen said...

I had heard about it and posted Ellen's video on my Facebook page. I completely agree, it made me cry about it when I heard.

When I was in high school, one of my closest guy friend's best friend commited suicide at the end of our junior year. He was a pastor's son, and should have been our valedictorian. He shot himself in the stomach in his basement while his parents were away for the day and died. It was absolutely horrible. He hadn't been teased that much, but he was very quiet and shy. Regardless if he wasn't teased a lot though, I felt our whole class was responsible for this tragedy. We were a small class of only 75 kids, and we all knew everyone else's business. I think he had some mental problems already, but obviously, we didn't help much. And we all felt guilty, and I'm sure most of us still do.

It doesn't matter how much someone is teased. Or maybe they are ignored and treated like an outcast. They are another human being and we need to treat them as such.

firespark said...

Juliababyjen - Oh, I'm so sorry you had to go through that (even if it was years ago). I can imagine how horrible that must have been. And, you're right, all people deserve to be treated like human beings.

But your story did give me a twinge, and I wanted to clarify something here. When I emphasized in this post the responsibility that these individuals hold in this particular scenario, I did not mean that we should all walk around feeling heavy with personal guilt every time a tragedy like this happens. I hope it was clear that I was specifically referring to the responsibility someone should feel for the result of their *actions* (as opposed to their intentions), and, primarily, this was directed at people who make a habit of pointedly ridiculing others.

For the rest of us, our responsibility is to show love and respect and do the best we know how to let others know that they are worthwhile. We reach out our hand if we can, we try to be accepting of others, but not everyone can help all people all the time.

My suggestion would be that if you know someone who seems to be in trouble, or you're worried at all, try to get a counselor involved, or direct that person to someone who might be able to help. But don't take on more than you can realistically handle. Sometimes just a conversation (even if it's not about "what's wrong with you") can make all the difference. The key here is to remember that people in pain are just like you and me - you've had pain, I am sure. You've felt misunderstood at times. And I'm willing to bet you've felt hopeless at least once in your life, for whatever reason. For some, the problems are just a bit deeper, or are felt more intensely. But we all have our moments. Just try not to let the moment define you or your life.

This too shall pass.