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.
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