The recent YouTube video showing 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein being verbally tormented by a group of middle school boys has been an invaluable instrument in creating support for anti-bullying campaigns.
While wristbands, posters and pink T-shirt days have all helped to raise awareness towards anti-bullying, the video’s raw nature seems to have had an unparalleled effect.
As four 13-year-old boys shout appalling insults and profanities at Klein, she remains silent and indicates her internal distress only by her tears.
The juxtaposition of the boys’ cutting words and Klein’s gentle disposition has brought the 10-minute video to nearly two million YouTube hits by now and has raised over $650,000 for Klein through the initiative of Max Sidorov, who started the online fundraising campaign.
The public’s generosity in response to the video is refreshing and remarkable and will be more than enough to pay for Klein’s proposed vacation and retirement.
But before we over-romanticize human nature and pat each other on the back for our goodwill, it’s worth looking at the response the four boys have received since the video went viral.
On just one of the four boys’ cell phones, there have been over 1,000 missed calls and over 1,000 text messages containing death threats.
On the YouTube video, various online news articles and the fundraising page for Klein, the comments posted by users have a strange semblance of the harsh comments that Klein herself received.
On one hand, it is natural and right to feel outraged in response to the boys’ cruelty.
But ironically, those who are using death threats, profanity and hatred to speak out against the boys’ actions demonstrate the same maliciousness that they are simultaneously trying to condemn.
After first hearing of the incident, my reaction was the same.
I thought that it would be just for the boys to receive admonishment of their actions through words that were equally harsh as their own.
But then I read Klein’s response, in which she said she was ready to forgive the boys and I realized that I was searching for second-hand revenge rather than justice. I was wanting to fight bullying by being a bully myself.
The boys involved in the incident are not the only ones who can learn from it; this holds a lesson for all of us.
Wearing a pink T-shirt on our national anti-bullying day is a great and easy way to fight the unkindness. But it doesn’t stop there.
If we were to take as strong a stand against bullying as we believe we should, incidents like the one involving Klein wouldn’t progress to 10-minute YouTube videos, because someone would step in before then to stop it.
The video of Klein and these four Grade 7 boys contains a rawness that is often difficult to communicate through standard anti-bullying campaigns and pep rallies and it has the power to produce an incredible effect on us.
Let’s make sure that this impact is not forgotten and incites us to stand up against bullying rather than join in with it.