Clementi, bullying, and ethics


It would be easy to say the case of Tyler Clementi–the talented violinist, who recently killed himself after an intimate encounter, and streamed online by his roommate–was about Tyler’s homosexuality, or just technology run amuck. It would be easy to focus on a bullying issue, or a sexually based hate crime.

Even though those factors surround the incident, a root problem is overlooked if these aspects get the most attention.

Why did it happen? Because people didn’t act according to proper ethics. They had no understanding or appreciation to act ethically. It was an easy laugh to embarrass a roommate, and technology made it so simple. The choice to record and stream this video was possible, and that–to the perpetrators–made it acceptable to do. But there is more:

The obvious question is “why”? The simple answer is “a blatant lack of respect for another.” Selfishness.

Ethics teach to do right by another, not because we like it, or because we benefit from it, but instead because every human being has this unalienable right. Because we are human, we are endowed these quality, and must act accordingly.

Some people think sensitivity training will stop bullying. It’s just not enough. It calls attention to those who are different, but it does not provide a satisfying reason to treat them well. Treating a special education student, an immigrant, or a homosexual young adult in a “tolerant” way, or with unique deference, alone, misses the most important point:

We don’t respect others, be kind, because this makes us nice people. We don’t do it, simply because we wish to be treated that way. We don’t do it because people will like us more. We engage as we ought because it is right in itself. And that’s enough.

Ought is the word one cannot skip. The fact that we all comprehend an ought, points to a source outside ourselves as the barometer of ethical standards.

Who determines this? Who are the rule makers?

Sometimes it’s special interest groups; sometimes religious groups, sometimes it’s educated experts; sometimes it’s the presidence of laws. All arbitrary starting points, in and of themselves, that can be expected to fold, like a house of cards.

The bullies continue. The “good citizen” character building taught often in schools falls flat, or is soon overshadowed by self-interest.

Rather, it is a birthright to be treated properly, even before one is born. It’s a non negotiable imperative to which we must all abide. As a basic feature of our makeup and purpose, it is a meta-edict for humankind. A dialectic of grace.

Nathan is a child who attracts peer ridicule. My son speaks and moves in odd ways. He’s sensitive, and obsessed with trains. Recently, he was punched repeatedly in the crotch and taunted by 3 boys who were screaming a train song in his ear.

I could envision a similar fate for Nathan which happened to Tyler. Both were exploited for sport.

Share you comments about this case, or bullying.

Have you ever been bullied

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7 responses to “Clementi, bullying, and ethics

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Clementi, bullying, and ethics | (Life As Prayer, and other stuff) -- Topsy.com

  2. Certainly, I was bullied. I even remember a time when I was an 8 year old at Church camp, one of the fellow campers bullied me the entire week…for one reason or another, I don’t know. I do remember taking a non-responsive response. And, actually, my cousin said to me something along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t have been able to take that without fighting back’…At one point, I ended up with a black eye….at Church Camp! I went back every year still….

    I tend to wonder however, is bullying also a direct result of a permeated world view, naturalist view, evolutionary view? One’s belief in the origin of everything or anything does have a direct impact on one’s response to outside relations be it with another human or the earth itself…

    If we teach that we are all an accidental mishap by chance – only developed by mistake through undirected changes that just happened to mash together to result in myself – the value I put on myself…and conversely on others….I would believe is distorted. In retrospect of an ideology as such – we would tend to see things in more relative terms – and not a barrier-free endowment.

    There is (I believe) a deeply rooted spiritual issue in culture that stems symptomatic problems like this.

  3. To answer the question, yes, I was bullied a lot in upper elementary/middle school. I was 5’7″ tall in 5th grade (didn’t grow anymore after that), but was quickly dubbed ‘moose’, and it stuck. As a gymnast, being that tall, I was bigger, faster, stronger than almost everyone in my class…including the boys. I Spent many lunch periods alone just waiting to go back to class to escape the feelings of being outcast. Anything that makes someone different than the ‘norm’ makes them a target for potential bullying…even if it’s because you’re good at something.

    The Olweus program that our district is using for anti-bullying education is interesting in that it focuses more on the bystanders. According to Olweus, only 20% of the popluation are either bullies or victims, it’s the other 80% that stand by and do nothing that could really affect change.

    My own children have not been the victims…yet…of serious bullying. Having been bullied myself, I’m really hopeful that the program our school is using will make a difference.

    • That’s a sad story, but I’m sure it gave you more compassion. In middle school, anything can make you stand out; it is a vicious time. . My husband hit puberty early, and also got to his full height in about 5th grade. Probably easier from a boy.

      Thank you very much for the resource.

  4. Short, turned upside down into trash cans, recipient of nonsensical nicknames, and (sometimes due to those things) slid through middleschool into highschool as reserved, insecure, and timid…. But I realized early on something that I truly believe helped me: 1. I’m not as worthless as they made me out to be, 2. I kinda feel sorry for those people, wondering what’s wrong in their lives to want to treat me this way, and 3. I can be better, rise above this, and use it to make me stronger and maybe even help others who got it worse.

    • Bob-Those are 3 great aspects to keep in mind, and I’ll try to get Nathan to absorb it.

      (Plus the ultimate revenge, Bob. You were/are one of the few, the proud: Marine.)

      Our experiences give us compassion and wisdom to help others. Thanks for sharing, and for helping a lot of people. It is appreciated.

      SIDENOTE: My brother is actually shorter than I am (not typical for a brother to be shorter than a sister). About 5’4″ ish (Of course his licence say he’s 5’7″ lol. He’s quite bright and recently told me a hilarious story of confrontation. Remind me to tell you! Sometimes the vertically challenged must just be smarter, or crazier!