Tyler Clementi and the Seduction of Revenge

The media is rabid over the death of Tyler Clementi.  I have a self imposed limit on news filtering into my life and even I have been bombarded with headlines, chats between DJs on the rock station and my Facebook News Feed has been a steady stream of “It Get’s Better” videos and links to various newspaper articles on the events leading up to Tyler’s suicide.

The two Rutgers students who are being charged with invasion of privacy, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei have been vilified as gay bashers who should be additionally charged with hate crimes and/or manslaughter and defended with the argument that they were just being typical kids.

We’ll never really know what motivated these young people to secretly tape another student in the privacy of his own room and  stream it to the Internet.  They have been quieted by lawyers and fear for their futures and fear for their own safety in the aftermath of these events.  The media has turned it into theater and aren’t really interested in a quiet analyses of how we got here.

I won’t pretend to know what led these kids to do something so hurtful and stupid; but, I’m going to propose something radical.  Let’s stop yelling for one moment and consider treating Ms. Wei and Mr. Ravi with a bit of compassion.

But, we want revenge.  We want revenge because then Ms. Wei and Mr. Ravi become other.  They are now steps removed from us because the higher the punishment the less they are us.  We want revenge because we’ve all been bullied in our lives by someone and somebody should pay.  We want revenge because some of us are gay and we’re sick of being targeted and picked on and we’re sick of being fearful.

Revenge is not the answer.  Compassion is.  I do not think ruining these two people’s lives is the answer.  I don’t think a sustained effort of harassment and shame and threats is the answer.

I think bullying is a complex problem that can’t be dissected in one blog post or even in the mainstream media.

It does bring up a topic I think about a lot, which is, where is the kindness?  Where is the empathy?  Instead of putting all of our energies into anti-bullying laws (which 45 states have done) we should be developing a plan to cultivate compassion and empathy into children asap and this training should be long and sustained.  Empathy can be learned.  Compassion can be cultivated.

And we have to turn the focus on ourselves.  Here in the United States we have a bully culture.  That’s why the  greatest reality television heroes are the bullies.  Does anyone even remember the names of the people that win?  No.  We love the bullies.  We are bombarded with images and plots where the bullies win and we have little tolerance for the weak.  We love Simon Cowell and his snarky commentary.  We love Jerry Springer and Jersey Shore.

If these kids had stopped for one second and thought about how THEY would feel if this were done to them, they wouldn’t have done it.

And here we have it, the Golden Rule, a rule that is upheld in almost every religion that I know of and is a common lesson taught in secular society.  Treat people the way you wish to be treated.  Most of us abandon it in the heat of the moment or when we feel we’ve been wronged or when we’re over-tired, stressed, hurt, immature or a host of other reasons.

If you had done something stupid and cruel when you were 18 or 25 or even yesterday, how would you wish to be treated?

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own mark on the world.  I know people who are vigilant about packing out the minutest piece of trash from the wilderness; but, think nothing of being rude or careless with their words and behaviors in their interactions with other humans.  It is a different kind of pollution they are leaving behind.

We are not that far removed from Ms. Wei and Mr. Ravi.  Now is not the time for revenge.  Now is the time for reflection and action that builds a sustainable culture of compassion.

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