“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was saddened to hear of the suicide of 15 year old Amanda Todd. She was cyber-bullied repeatedly by a man who circulated a photo of her flashing the camera. The fallout from that picture’s circulation led to her family moving and her changing schools. It didn’t stop the same cyber-bully from going after her again. And again the fallout caused her life to descend into shambles.

She posted a video on Youtube in September in which she detailed her life and what happened after the cyber-bullying began. I watched it with my wife and we were both heartbroken because we realized that even though the video was posted a month ago, it was most likely too little too late for Amanda. It wasn’t that it wouldn’t be viewed and people wouldn’t reach out to her. It was that, in all honesty, it felt like a suicide note, a last will and testament for a girl who felt she could never again have the privacy and dignity that all people inherently deserve.

Dr. Brenda Morrison, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, as well as a board member of SFU’s Centre for Restorative Justice, said in an article about Amanda’s suicide, “Once we’re in a downward spiral our negative self-talk can be so detrimental to us. And especially around issues around sexually, it cuts us at our core. Other kids pick up on that, we get labelled, the label becomes self-perpetuating and can end in tragedy, as we all know now”.

My last post on Shaneisms was about my distaste for social media. The sad case presented to us here is a reminder of the dangers of social media. While having almost limitless information at our fingertips is a wonderful resource, it is just as dangerous as a loaded gun when used maliciously. We can find addresses, social networking profiles, tweets and almost any information we want about someone with just a few keystrokes. And once a picture is posted online it can be just a matter of minutes before it’s impossible to wipe off the digital web.

Once we find information about someone, it can take only a few more keystrokes to set them on a self-destructive path. And because of the anominity of the internet there is often no fear of reprisal by those who use it to bully and abuse others. All you have to do is set up a profile under a false name and off you go, knowing it will be that much harder to find you. If you’re worried about your computer being tracked down via it’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) address you can always go to the library or an internet cafe, adding another layer of anominity for authorities to work through.

Here’s where we start to look at ourselves and our behavior, our reactions to a life lost long before it should have been.

After looking through videos and articles related to Amanda Todd, I started looking at online reactions. Many of these saddened me as much as Amanda’s story itself. I could not believe the number of people calling for revenge on those who bullied her. One young man on Youtube went as far as to call out the bullies, giving them directions on how to find him. While I admire his conviction, he became symbolic to me of our society’s wrong-headed notion of what Justice means.

When I worked through many of the comments I came across, I saw that, at the core of them, they called for what can only be described as “vigilante justice”.

“If the police won’t do something to stop them, then we should”, “let’s let the bullies have a taste of their own medicine”, “do you think they’d be laughing if it was their privacy invaded and their dirty laundry out there for the world to see?” “yeah you’re so tough picking on a teenage girl. think you’d be so tough against a grown man?”

The list of similar comments went on and on. I saw several Facebook posts that echoed the same sentiments. I understand completely where they are coming from. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” is a golden rule throughout the world. Unfortunately, in times of crisis and fear, we have a tendency to interpret this as “they did it to us, so doing it back is completely justified”. Is it really?

There was a time, a few years ago, where I had the chance to pay back in full kind someone who had made my life hell, with no possibility of any consequence to me. It was a free, wide open opportunity to give that person punishment for everything he had put me through. I won’t lie… knowing I could get away with it made it very tempting. But in the end I chose not to take vengeance and I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve often reviewed that day, going over every detail in my mind, every possible outcome. I came to the realization I would have become the very thing I hated: I would have become the bully. I would have become the coward.

These calls for “justice”, saying “repay them in kind” is nothing more than vigilantism. It’s about nothing more than one’s own gratification, about nothing more than satisfying one’s own need for vengeance, with the wrongful belief it will bring us a sense of balance. But will it really? How does becoming the bully to repay bullying lead to a higher form of justice?

If we truly desire justice, change, and healing, it can only come when we end our desire to see the other person hurt.

Am I saying that those who bullied Amanda should get away scot free? No. They crossed a line and there have to be consequences and prevenative measures. What does need to change is our instinctive desire for revenge as a means of seeking justice. We must put our pride, ego, and desires aside and work towards a greater Good.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do that.

I believe with all my heart that love is more powerful than hate. It is also far more difficult to act out of love because it requires us to make ourselves vulnerable to attack. It requires us to give with no thought of repayment. It asks of us everything with no guarantee of even our own safety. Revenge allows us to stay within our comfort zones. Love often requires we leave them. Especially tough love. It too easy to forget that often the schoolyard bully comes from a home where they’re the one bullied. It is very rare the person that bullies and attacks for no reason and not out of some hurt in their own life. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to say that whether you were the bully or the one being picked on really came down to your social environment. Another roll of the family situational dice and you could have been in the opposite role you found yourself in grade school.

Amanda Todd felt like an outsider, someone who had been misunderstood and labeled by someone else’s abuse. She didn’t realize how far and wide her life and her passing would affect people. Perhaps she will spur you to act, to prevent further tragedies. If you’re asking “but what can I do”, use some keystrokes and look up positive ways to combat bullying in your community. I’ll even give you a head start. Head on over to thejackproject.org and read how you can help. The Jack Project was started in memory of Jack Windeler, an 18 year old who committed suicide after falling into a deep depression.

For all the negative posts I saw about Amanda Todd’s death, I did come across many sensitive, sorrowful and caring ones, like this one: “I’m sorry you had to go through all that, I’m sorry that people are that horrible and cruel, I’m sorry you had to experience being that alone and I’m sorry that you had to end your life so short of its potential.”

Maybe one day, if we work together, other boys and girls, other men and women, in Amanda’s position will find the encouragement and strength to reach that potential.

Maybe.

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“We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” – Sean Parker, “The Social Network”

I am not a big fan of social media. If it was up to me, I would have no problem doing without the vast majority of it. I know what you’re thinking… “and yet you’re saying this via social media”. The irony is not lost on me. In fact, that irony, that realization, frustrates me to no end.

I’m old enough to remember when the tech du jour was an Apple II. I remember having a Commodore 64 in my room and learning to properly type using it. I remember the old brick cellphones and how cool it was when the phones got small enough to fit in your back pocket. I remember the hiss and buzz of dial-up internet and using a text based interface to navigate around the just emerging internet. I remembering using ICQ to chat to friends during my high school and college days.

When I look at the way the internet and social networking have evolved, I honestly feel like we’ve taken a step back as a society. There’s something disconcerting about knowing that I can call, email, text and yell off of my balcony trying to get hold of someone to no avail, but send them a Facebook message and *boom* less than five minutes later I’ve got a reply.

I have a Facebook account and I post almost every day. Usually I try to post something that is so absurd that when you read it will make you laugh and forget all the drama going on around you. I’ve wanted to leave Facebook several times but every time I want to I get flooded with messages saying “I’ll miss you!”, “Don’t go, you make me laugh!” and “If you leave, where will I get my daily reminder of how important my sanity is to me when I see you’ve clearly lost yours?”… and then my wife chimes in telling me she likes to have me on Facebook as a balance against all the drama people post.

It’s that drama that makes me want to leave and why I don’t like social media to begin with. I’m all for wanting to stay in touch, checking up on how my friends and family are doing, and finding out about what’s going on in the community. But that makes up maybe 20% of what comes across my Facebook page. The rest is usually a weird mixture of baby photos (or statuses about how little Timmy or Janie learned to use the potty or discovered the cat doesn’t taste as good as it looks), Instagram photos (I don’t understand how over-saturating the colors makes a photo 72% more awesome), and drama about how your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person since Albert Schweitzer, or something about how you can’t believe your “best” friend would do whatever it is they did. This time.

It is true that I’ve found long lost friends using social media. It’s fun to reconnect and see that I’m the only one not going bald and that their hopes and dreams are still, like mine, hopes and dreams. I like being able to support friends doing fundraisers (when I can afford it) and cheer them on when they have a big event like a wedding, birth of a child or when they finally finish grad school. Yet, for all these good things I find myself feeling strangely more disconnected than ever in terms of having actual one on one face-time with people.

When I was growing up, if I wanted to see what my friends down the street were doing, I’d put on my shoes and go ring their doorbell. Most of the time that was the extent of planning out the afternoon. We’d run home and get our bikes and baseball gloves and go to the nearest diamond, or ride over the mall and see what was new at the comic book store. It seems that walking down the street has been replaced with texting and while it’s more efficient, I don’t find it anywhere near as fun.

I understand the allure of texting… you can have a conversation with someone without having to actually have a conversation with them. It’s also handy in an emergency, since you can get the word out quickly no matter where everybody happens to be at that moment. Unfortunately, I see our society dumbing down because of it. I’ve seen entire Facebook posts written in just “netspeak”. A friend of mine who is a university psychology professor has told me he’s had papers written almost entirely in that same netspeak shorthand. I can’t shake this feeling that if we continue this way that a few centuries from now we will have thumbs that rival Superman’s but will end up saying “oh… so that’s what you actually look like” when we finally meet up with each other. Assuming we can make that coherent of a sentence and not just “u look funy. lol. :)”

Maybe I’m too old fashioned for my own good, but I hate texting. No, not “hate”. Maybe “loathe to the very core of my being” is better. Seriously, if you want to tell me something, take the two minutes to call me. The usual complaint is “but it costs more”. Congratulations… you’ve just shown how valuable you consider your time and conversation to be. If the cost is really that big of a deal, next time I see you I will give you a dollar to cover the immense expense of calling me.

There are two other aspects of social media that really bother me. The first is this sense that the world needs to be informed of your every decision. Do I really need to know that you went to Wal-Mart? Or what you had for dinner? Or that you like it when your socks don’t match? As riveting as all this information flowing about is, I’m pretty sure I can live without it. It might be difficult to shoulder on in a world without knowing that your cat likes to be called “snookums” as opposed to “fluffy” but, somehow, I’ll manage to go on.

The second aspect ties into the first aspect of over-estimating one’s importance to society. It’s that the anonymity of the internet puffs people up into making “tough guy” statements they have no chance of backing up in real life. From calling someone out for any slight, real or otherwise, to making racial, ethnic and religious slurs, there’s a sense that because you’re not face to face with the person, there’s no real consequence. You’ve all read comments to this effect. I really wonder how many tough guys there would be if they had to say it face to face, knowing the other person can instantly retaliate in a way you can’t avoid simply by disconnecting from the internet.

Perhaps what I’m really missing is the feeling of community and good, engaging conversations. Social media seems to have put us on the path to be trained to limit our thoughts to 140 characters and whittle away our feelings to whatever fits in a soundbite. Social media consultants will tell you that the explosion of personal media outlets is the greatest transformation of the past 100 years. I don’t buy it. And not just because they’re paid to hype social media. For all the chances we have for reaching out, we squander them on mindlessness. I fear that many truly brilliant ideas have been missed because of the never-ending cacophony of all our social media outlets.

I’ve heard it said that social media is a necessary evil. I disagree. “Evil” is only “necessary” when we refuse to live without it, despite a better choice possibly existing. I’ve heard people say “I can’t live without my smartphone”. Really? Try leaving it at home sometime and see just how quickly you die, probably by falling over-dramatically, in slow-motion, with choral music playing.

We can say more than ever, in more ways than ever, but do we really have anything to say? Now… stop reading this, leave your computer and go outside without any communication device on you except your own vocal chords. Get reconnected.