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.