Sunday, October 17, 2010

Detail Oriented - Or, When You Can't See The Forest for the Trees

I am going to speak my piece about something that shaped and molded a large part of my childhood. Hopefully I'll stay focused and balanced and on the subject. Yes, it's very relevant to today.


As a scrawny, skinny kid who was bused to a Catholic school, I was well acquainted with bullies and who they were. As kids in the school often referred to my home town as the one 'with the mental institution' (actually it separated the city from its southern neighbor), I got picked on and bullied from both sides. I was involved in my fair share of playground and street fights. I can't say I started any of them, I was just an easy target who took everything personally and (sometimes) literally. In all that time, I never considered the thought of removing the pain and suffering by taking my own life. Today, everything is different - to the point that forty-one states already have anti-bullying laws to one extent or another on their books; and at least three more as well as the federal government are considering them.

The game, as it were, has become more of an open thing. As a youth, I always had the relative sanctuary of my home as a 'bully-free' zone. I didn't get or make phone calls to friends until I was 14. What friends I had until then were generally a knock on the door of their house. There were no cell phones, no text messages, no Internet on which to blog or to announce personal updates (factual or fictitious) to anyone and everyone. Like any human advance, what started out as a useful and practical innovation limited to the privileged few was abused and taken to the extreme when put before the masses, especially when the masses happen to be children. Most kids do not understand the full extent of ramifications and consequences of misuse of anything; and it's impossible to assign a generic time stamp that essentially states that they do.

Now, just as it was then, if you didn't fit the uniform of the times, whatever it consists of, you are considered an outcast by your peers. But now, unlike then, there is generally no more sanctuary.

If you're openly anything - be it geeky, devout in your religious beliefs, wear your hair too long or too short, you might as well wear a target on your person. Bullies will find you. They will not leave you alone. They will accost you verbally. They will inundate you with text messages. They will converse amongst themselves about you on social networking websites.

It has been said that some of this is just the way kids sort out their pecking order and test newcomers to the fold, and that it generally means no harm. And I might have agreed back in my childhood, if I'd had the experience of an adult's mind in my childhood body. But it's simply not true anymore. Teachers who were once able to instill the fear of retribution into 'problem' students can't do that now. Parents are often eager to take matters before the courts - because whoever has the power ultimately welcomes someone into their midst who willfully abuses it.

Between the pressures of fitting in and the pressure to perform well academically and the pressures of looming decisions over college and career choices, there is also the mass-marketing toward children and adolescents. What a kid has today is outdated the following week when the next 'new' thing comes along. Add on top of this the physical changes the body is going through at the same time. As they pass through these years, there's so much change going on, that kids have enough to do just to figure out who they are, let alone what they're going to do for (most likely) the rest of their adult lives.

The latest of these concerns - at least the one that seems to draw so much media attention - is sexual orientation. So many teens are 'coming out' as openly gay. It is not mine to judge whether this is a lifestyle choice or a predestined genetic condition. It is uncertain whether those who claim to be gay are doing so to get on some kind of social or antisocial bandwagon. Whatever the real truth is, the fact remains that this has become the latest vehicle for bullying teens to hijack.

At least six recent teen suicides have been of young men who had stated they were openly gay. It is not known if their attackers among their peers are of fundamentalist or other conservative Christian denominations. It would not be out of line to suggest this to be a cause. Regardless, whoever laid the burdens upon the victims most likely do not understand the repercussions or consequences of what happens when someone takes something too far.

An Internet movement is urging students and supporters to wear purple this Wednesday to honor the lives of the six boys who took their own lives as they succumbed to the pressures around their young lives. I intend to wear purple that day - not just for these six, but for all those who have lost their lives in a place where this kind of thing should never have a chance to happen. I will do it for the victims at Columbine High School and other places like it where innocent lives were taken. I will do it for those who have lost the understanding of innocence, both personal and as a virtue, at the hands of another student. I will do it because I could have been one of them.

But know this - laws meant to get down to the nitty gritty, as it were, generally never do. If we're still looking for answers as to how malcontent gets a foothold in the world, we've never had to look all that far. That is indeed the sad truth, one that no amount of legislation will change. To live and love in the ideal manner expressed in religious ideologies demands that intimidation, threats, and bullying cease to exist. No church or religious ideology has been able to stop it because all have used it to some degree over the course of history.

Perhaps it is because, in our zeal, we fail to see the forest....for the Tree.
Lord, help us all.

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