I saw as much as I could stand of the appalling video on YouTube the other day. The one about bus monitor, 68-year-old Karen Klein, being taunted by 12 and 13 year-old boys as they return home from school in Rochester, New York. The boys demean her for her weight, her apparent economic status ("she got her purse at Dollar Tree"), and threaten to come to her house and do things like piss on her door.
The incident was videotaped by one of the kids and then put on YouTube with the title "Making the Bus Monitor Cry." Of course it went viral. In the New York Times article I read, a Canadian (God Bless Canadians!) named Max Sidorov started a fundraising drive on Indiegogo to send Karen on a nice vacation. He set a goal of $5000. When I checked before writing this post, the fund had raised $641,286!!!!
Before I get all high-and-mighty, I have to confess that I did my share of bullying in school. The psychology of bullying is fascinating. Remember that article in Time Magazine last year, the one with the headline: Why Kids Bully: Because They're Popular? That was me, trying to inch up the social hierarchy.
The video and its aftermath were all very salutary because this weekend, I read the wonderful middle grade novel WONDER, by R.J. Palacio. (I review it on Middle Grade Mafioso.) This novel is all about accepting people, not judging them for what they look like, and is a moving testament for the importance of kindness. Here's what the author says on her website in answer to the question: What do you hope readers come away with after finishing WONDER?
R.J.Palacio: (with my italics)
I hope that readers will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it’s them.As the outpouring of support for Karen H. Klein shows, there is a whole lot of kindness in this world!
I also hope parents take heed and do more interfering in their kids’ lives. I’ve talked to so many parents, friends of mine, who kind of stood back and shrugged off their kids’ behavior in middle school, as if being mean were an unavoidable evil that they “hope” their kid would grow out of. I had one dad tell me once about his son, “Well, he doesn’t listen to me anymore so I stopped wasting my time trying to tell him what to do.” To me, that’s exactly when your kid needs you the most: when he acts like he’s not listening anymore. What I think is that deep down inside, we’re so grateful that it’s not our kid who’s being picked on we look the other way when it’s someone else’s kid. So long as it’s not your kid at the bottom of that ladder, you know? But parents have to resist that way of thinking. They need to remind their kids to be kind and do right exactly because it’s the hardest thing to do at that age.