I'm fed up. I don't want to turn on the news and hear about one more child taking his or her own life.
Most recently, we heard that a 12-year-old Florida girl, Rebecca Sedwick, committed suicide after being the victim of relentless cyber abuse and bullying by an estranged 14-year-old friend. That means Rebecca will never blow out her candles on another birthday cake, she'll never walk down the aisle on her wedding day, she'll never realize her dreams of what she wants to do in life.
I worry that we're becoming immune to stories like Rebecca's--but we shouldn't. Every couple weeks we read a headline about another kid driven to suicide because they were tormented by bullies either in the flesh or on social networks, on speed with the ability to spread gossip and venom to exponentially more people as fast as your fingers can post a status update.
A while back I attended a BBYO-sponsored event on bullying attended by around 100 Chicago-area Jewish teens. The kids were asked to stand up if they'd ever "witnessed or been involved in bullying." Every one of the teens stood up. Next, they were asked if they had a Jewish obligation to stop bullying. Again, everyone rose to their feet.
So many Jewish laws in the Torah forbid what today would be classified as bullying or being a bystander to bullying such as the following: Halbanat Panim-avoidance of public humiliation; Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof--justice, justice, you must pursue; Tzelem Elohim--every human being is created in the image of God; Pikuach Nefesh--saving of life, the highest Jewish obligation; Rechilut and Lashon HaRah--Rechilut prohibits statements that are untrue, while Lashon HaRah expands this prohibition to include factually truthful speech that might malign an individual; and Adam Yachid--the concept that every human being is unique and precious.
Stories about bullying don't start and end in the halls of school. We adults urge our children to treat each other with kindness, but a lot of times we expect them do as we say, not as we do.
Just look at the culture of meanness and bullying that we're surrounded by every day as adults--figurative food fights and shutdowns on Capitol Hill, certain reality shows featuring vicious housewives, and famous people with names starting with the letter "K," and magazines at the grocery store checkout line, where women celebrities who look a pound heavier than usual are paraded on covers to be mocked.
A couple years ago, I watched Ellen Degeneres--a beautiful example of someone leading the charge against a culture of meanness and bullying--interview Chaz Bono who people had protested for his appearance on the show Dancing with the Stars because he is transgender. What Degeneres said moved me so much that I jotted it down at the time. "I am so upset about bullying in schools and until we take responsibility for how adults treat one another, [we need to] see that we are doing the same thing we're asking our kids not to do at school," she said. "…To say that he's different and he's wrong…shame on us for doing that. We should be an example for kids."
So a culture of kindness begins with us. And Shabbat, which we'll greet this evening, seems a perfect time to start. If everyone reading these words right now could go home tonight and--whether you have kids or not--just be a little nicer to one another, to the people we love, to the people in our extended social circle and even on Facebook, to strangers on the street, we could create a ripple effect.
Now I'm no Polyanna. I know that one little blog isn't going to stop us from hearing about another Rebecca Sedwick, but it's a start.