Here in a matter of less than 72 hours, through the viral spread of an uploaded video, that spread like a SARS virus through the online social networks, we have seen how quickly lives can be tragically altered and redeemed through the actions of others. I am speaking of the bullying and abuse that a 68 year old woman, from Greece, New York, who was subjected to the abuse of four 13 year old boys on the journey home on their school bus. The woman, known as Karen Klein, who resides in the small suburb of Greece, which is part of Rochester, NY, was accosted and abused, and the whole scene was captured on video and uploaded to Youtube, for the whole world to see.
I found this video very disturbing and alarming. Be forwarned it will “push” your buttons and provoke. View this at your own discretion.
It has not only gone viral, but international as well, and it has garnered the small town a ton of unwanted publicity. The reaction of citizens from the little town have been full of shock that this has taken place in their own back yard. There is a lot of anger and sorrow and pain and dismay that it is their kids in their own neighbourhoods and school that have done this to an elderly woman.
The school authorities and the police are investigating. The four boys have been identified. It is sure to be a day of reckonning for the boys. There was a response from a 25 year old young Canadian man, from Toronto, Max Sidorov, who decided that the elderly woman, Karen, deserved a vacation of a lifetime, and so posted online a fundraiser that would allow the woman to have a vacation and recover from this bullying abuse. Within 48 hours there was in excess of $500,000 raised for the woman.
ONE LOCAL TALK RADIO STATION TALKS ABOUT IT
I won’t recount all the discussion on what has taken place other than to say that I am shocked at some of talk radio’s programs and their milking of the story. Last night on my way home, one local talk radio station I listen to, 570NEWS, had their evening host do a segment on this story. The host, Michelle Dyer, had a prolonged discussion and commentary on how she believed the woman should keep some of the money, and suggested that she should give the rest to some anti-bullying agency. This raised a whole range of reactions on the program and provoked many questions in my own thought on the matter. I want to address some of this here.
MY RESPONSE TO MICHELLE DYER
First things first. No media person has a “right” to dictate to anyone how to conduct themselves, especially when it is presented in some “do gooder” mindset, as if you know better than the person, what they should do with the money.
Secondly, the woman, Karen, did not solicit funds. This was done by the 25 year old Torontonian, Max Sidorov, who started the online campain. He was moved with compassion, and a little anger at the boys. He decided to do something positive, but had no idea of the response from the public that was generated as a result of his desire to do something to better the situation and assist the elderly woman.
Thirdly, the money raised, was given by others who responded to the video and the request to assist this woman who was verbally assaulted, bullied and abused, and to help her by giving money so she could get away and begin to recover from this whole traumatic event. The donors gave the money as an expression of support for Karen. There is no way anyone else should determine what Karen does with the money and how she should disperse the funds.
Fourth, there is more than enough money and stupid laws (like the recent law passed in Ontario, Bill C13), meant to do something good, that have gone haywire, and caused more harm than good. So there is a ton of tax payer money being applied to anti-bully programs. There is no need to siphon off money from a person who is a victim of bullying.
Now, more about my thoughts on the problem.
INITIAL REACTIONS TO WHAT THE 13 YEAR OLD BOYS DID
As a parent I am at a loss for words, but hardly surprised. I have come to understand that while we raise our children, it is within a context that includes:
- Family of origin
- Extended family
- Family supports like churches, and social agencies like Scouts and other social clubs
- School and their supports
- Sports and recreation
- Peer pressure
I believe that all these combined, raise our children. As our children age they become more and more inter-dependent and at times more independent than we want to even imagine or believe. Their circle of influence, who they allow to influence them includes:
- School mates
- TV, Movies and entertainment culture
- Social networks like Facebook, Youtube, Google+, Twitter
This source of influence is what parents have the greatest difficulty in understanding, influencing, assessing and engaging.
This whole episode, which was posted on Facebook, reveals why 10 year olds should not have access to the social networks or even own a smartphone/cellphone. The more our society becomes a society of borgs, semi-human beings with attachements to their heads like Bluetooth ear buds, and tablet PC’s like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Android phones and iPhones, and Blackberries within hand reach, the less the eye contact with people and real “face to face” facetime and interaction. The less we use our interpersonal skills, the more disengaged we become and the more uncomfortable we become from true community and authentic relationships with people. This side effect of technology is a frightening development, and the younger the users of technology the more dangerous it becomes as more and more youth become desengaged and detached, and develop a alternative form of life.
The other side effect is the lack of a moral and ethical ethic to techonology and our place and use of cyberspace in assisting us in what has been coined as our “digital life”. At one time that term was limited to our digital life at work but now that includes our whole “wired life”, from our addiction to texting, social media, and everyone from a three year old to a ninety year old has their own cell phone or smart phone, in order to “stay connected”. It has become so out of control that now there are laws to stop people from communicating while driving, which would seem by its very nature to be an oxymoron.
REVEALING THE PROBLEM OF HOW WE RAISE OUR KIDS
What has astounded me has been that no matter how well we think we have parented our children, there are no guarantees that they will walk out the beliefs and values that were modeled and sowed into them. They have external influences, especially in our age, as I have mentioned above. We can only hope that our own relationships with them as parents and as they mature, and our relationships change and become the bond of friendship, that our relating and interaction is such that we will remain a voice among the many voices that influence our children.
The cycle of dependence and inter-dependence as children become teenagers, and then become adults is one where the competition of influential external voices will have the potential to keep our children focused and centred, or ultimately derail them. This is why we must continue to engage and grow our relationships with our children and offer an alternative voice to the ones that seem to dominate and over influence their development in the teen years into adulthood. This is difficult and at times painful for us as adults, but we must persevere, love and embrace and engage with our children, and be in prayer at all times, that what we have sown into their lives, will be nourished and bear good fruit.
Proverbs 22: 6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
I felt a mixture of emotions listening to one of the parents of the boys that verbally abused, assaulted and bullied the elderly woman. As a dad, I cannot imagine the pain in the man and what he must be thinking and going through. The disappointment, the anger, the embarrassment of publicly having to address his son’s behaviour. On one level he did not have to do that. But in his heart he knew he could not do otherwise. For that I appreciate what he did.
REVEALING THE LACK OF LOVE AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN OUR SOCIETY
This sure reveals the polarities that exist in our decadent culture. The anger, angst, and shock from one sector of society, and the narcism that seems to be growing like a plague, and the indifference from a youth culture that has grown in the video game, and social networking age which has beset us at every turn only reveals how much of a slide has actually taken place. When you get soldiers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan who carry video game consoles to battle, who have played with violent games, especially RPG type games, that are so realistic, when they get into a real gun battle, they react as they do in their game playing. The collateral damage of civilian casualties are laughed off and ridiculed as being part of the game. In real life, you just can hit the “reset button” and start the fantasy RPG game all over again. Real life, real time, in your face combat doe not give you the luxury of a “reset” button! Thus all the increased incidents of war crimes committed by the video generation.
Compounding the problem is when this same generation uploads everything from their cell phones to social video networks, including their war crimes, and pose, laugh and ridicule fellow human beings, reminiscent of the Nazis who stood by their victims as victors over their trophies. No different, just a different era, displaying the same lack of human connection, ethics and morality. It seems nothing has been learned from the past. There are displays of such lack of love and compassion, and the accountability seems to lack vision and drive and conviction.
In the case of combat violations, the Western democracies, Canada included, only react, when they know it will be come a public relations nightmare. Their desire to be above reproach lacks authenticity, because it always comes across as damage control, and trying to control the message that is broadcast, especially through the rapid deployment of the message on the social networks. When news literally becomes viral, as did this story about this elderly woman, any form of government service, be it education, of the military, the reaction time is so lightning fast in some cases, and so dreadfully slow, that either way, the message, like the genie out of the bottle, becomes unpredictable in how it moves about in cyberspace and the media.
So our little boys, who don’t seem to have much of a moral compass, who lack compassion, love and acceptance of others, who have the latest and most expensive smart phones to capture every moment and upload it in seconds on Facebook or Youtube, they grow up to become these same soldiers who capture their enemies on video, and urinate on their bodies, laughing and disrespecting dead human beings. This may sound extreme, but it is the slide to the current situation that we are in.
While we have youth that are the exception to the above listed young people who grow up to do criminal inhuman acts of violence to others, we have the middle of the crowd bunch, who stand by and say nothing or do nothing to intervene and put a stop the behaviours of the few leaders of the pack who do these insidious acts to others. These are the ones that concern me the most. These are the same people, that in the 1930’s in Nazi Germany, simply looked the other way and pretended that nothing was really going on. You know, “It’s just the ‘Jews’! They aren’t ‘real Germans’!” You know, “It’s just an old fat lady! You know, even her own kids hate her!” You know, that is exactly the same attitude. This attitude, when unchecked, and unchallenged, creates a generation that will just go along with anything that happens, as long as it doesn’t personally affect them. This generation is in desperate need of rescue. What are we to do about it?
REVEALING HOW QUICKLY SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BROADCAST THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UNGLY
If we have learned anything (again) from this episode of life gone wired, is just how quickly what is posted online on blogs, social media networks, video channels, can go viral, and once done, you cannot get it back. So on one hand you have the Spring Revolution across the Arab world in 2011 that broadcast to the world fledging democratic revolutions where people captured scenes on video and photos and passed them on to the world via their smart phones to social media sites so that their voices would not be and could not be silenced. I well remember when there were protests in Iran in 2010 and 2011, how scenes went viral, especially of the young woman who was shot by a government sniper. The reaction world wide was quite incredible. That is a good thing.
Then as a Canadian you have to hide your face in shame, at how all the scenes of carnage and riot of the Vancouver Canucks run in the Stanley Cup final in 2011 was captured for the world to see. You saw the absolute disregard for law and order and self control, not just in the behaviour of the rioters but also the fact that these people captured themselves and others on their cell phones and uploaded the video on YouTube and Facebook for the world to see, and for the civil and police authorities to track down, investigate, charge and convict the perpetrators in the court of law. Such is the power of social media when it goes viral. This is the bad, where some good was done to catch and convict the criminal activities of rabid hockey fans who crossed line from being a fan, to a criminal.
HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND TO THIS KIND OF SITUATION?