When I was in maybe sixth grade or so, I would always take the bus over to my mom & dad’s office (little did I know I’d be working there some 20 years down the road, but that’s a different story). One day, we had a substitute bus driver. For whatever reason, this bus driver was just the butt of all jokes for my whole ride on the bus. I have no memory if it was a man or a woman, I have no recollection of what they looked like. What I do remember is that when I got off the bus that day, I turned around and raised my middle finger at the bus driver. Who knows what I was thinking would happen as a result, but most probably I saw an opportunity to try to gain acceptance among my peers. Flicking off an adult was certainly not like me (hence, in my head, cool). It was edgy, it was mean, and it was in line with how everyone else was feeling and acting at the time.
My walk from where I was dropped off to the actual office was probably about 100 feet. By the time I actually stepped inside my mom’s office I was in tears. I felt wretched, and in fact, as you can tell (since this was now a LONG time ago), the memory has not dimmed all that much. I am still ashamed of it. Also, not shockingly, I did not become homecoming queen in the aftermath of this action. Nobody came up to me the next day and said, “Wow, you’re cooler than I thought. Let’s be friends.” It was a cruel and wasted effort that was empty of meaning. I am sure the bus driver thought of me as another ungrateful, snotty kid.
This event came to mind in the wake of the story about bus monitor Karen Klein. Karen, like the bus driver I flicked off, was just trying to do her job, but she was met with hatred and abuse from a bunch of kids she was trying to look out for. Those kids probably also were participating so that they could gain acceptance. One day, they may deeply regret their actions, and they will even have video footage of that black mark on their personalities. Thank goodness YouTube wasn’t born yet when I was a kid.
Online and offline, we are often presented with an opportunity to tear someone else down as a way of (seeming) to tie ourselves closer to someone else. If there is a group that often picks at a person, our brains tell us that also picking on that person will make us a part of that group. There are three things you need to ask yourself when these situations arise.
1. Is the acceptance of these people worth abusing someone else for?
2. Will you be accepted by these people if you pick on that person?
3. If you are accepted to some extent, will you be happy?
My gamble as a kid clearly did not pay off. In the online world, it’s even easier to do the equivalent of flipping the bird. You can ridicule people, lambaste people, gossip, or even lie about others in order to try to make headway with others. Ask yourself those three questions. If you end up regretting your action, it will be a regret that will stay with you for a LONG time. You can take my word for it.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/3550794139/ via Creative Commons