Sticks & Stones

Inspired to write this piece after reading a recent news story:

First let me say that I have nothing but sympathy for the family of Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying, ridicule, and cyber-attacks. Reading articles like this only furthers my belief that the Internet has allowed a very select few people in this world to think it’s all right to be crude, nasty, and mean to one another — and perhaps more disturbingly…think that they can do it without any repercussions. One of the first lessons we learn in science is that every action has a reaction. Human social interaction is a science unto itself, with many of the same principles of conventional chemistry. We even call the interactions between people “chemistry.” So when “unstable compounds” are introduced to a mixture, it doesn’t take a PhD professor to know it’s potentially asking for trouble.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Now, the original meaning behind this phrase was that physical attacks do hurt, but verbal assaults cause no physical/literal damage. However, as one who believes fervently in the power of words, I respectfully disagree with this statement. Words can and do hurt. And in this modern era, in the age of the online interaction, words have become the new weapons.

You can’t throw a stone at, or hit someone with a stick on a computer. But verbal jabs can cut just as deep. Especially when a person is insulted or bullied in places such as mass online games, or large message boards in front of literally THOUSANDS of people. When one person is singled out in this kind of environment, even the staunchest person can begin to feel a little self-conscious. Imagine being a 12-year-old living in an environment where you genuinely feel the world is out to get you, and no one likes you. No one is debating that adolescence is a difficult time for young people, but it’s made easier when we have friends and others who we know will support us through anything, and we do the same for them. Without friends…the world can seem a very dark place indeed.

Now, as odd as this may sound to say, reading this article has actually made me grateful. Grateful in that, throughout my 26 years of life, I have actually given very little credence to what others have thought of me. I’ve experienced bullying…particularly in middle school and early high school. I was tormented, insulted, and embarrassed publicly, and of course it made me feel terrible, but unlike so many others my age, it was momentary. I always rose above. And I realize that is SO much easier said than done. But I have never cared what other people think of me. It’s my life to live, and I will live it how I want. If you don’t like it, well…that’s your problem isn’t it? So hearing about people who have ended their lives because of bullying of course make me sad…but it also makes me appreciate my life that much more because I’ve been blessed to have discovered early on that the opinion that should matter most to you, is yours.

The final thing I will say is for parents. According to the above article, the parents of the girls who tormented Sedwick, took absolutely no responsibility for their daughters’ conduct. On the contrary, they said their computers were “hacked” and hurtful comments placed on their Facebook pages. A parent, who is unable or unwilling to fulfill the duties expected of them, is a person who is unworthy to be a parent. Indeed, our actions are our own and we must take responsibility for them, but it is the parent’s job to instill that sense of morality in us. If they don’t take any responsibility for their actions, how can they possibly expect their children to do so? This is not to say the parents must discipline young children and interrogate them as to their online activities. But they should involve themselves in their children’s lives and insure that proper steps are taken to insure they are not engaging in flaming, trolling, or cyber-bullying. And of they are, to teach them WHY it’s wrong.

In this new age of online communication, it is so much easier to reach people across great distances along the Super Information Highway. But, it also extremely easy to negatively impact the lives of complete strangers behind a computer screen under the protective shield of anonymity. It’s simple to ignore the suffering of someone you don’t know, and even simpler to add to it. So do them and yourselves a favor, be civil to each other — because, as the old saying goes: “If you can’t say anything nice…don’t say nothin’ at all.”