Thursday, October 7, 2010

October - the month of causes...

Tomorrow morning is the first morning of the Susan G. Koman 3Day, which about 10 years ago was the Avon Breast Cancer 3Day and may one day be a walk commemorating the fact that because of these two great organizations there is no more need to walk for 3 days to educate the world about breast cancer in men and woman.

But this month is more than breast cancer month. It is also anti-bullying month. (And probably a month dedicated to a few more things including costumes, harvests and new years.) So, why am I writing about this particular subject. Well, because - as most of us introverts who are into arts or math or science or anything not considered "normal" - I experienced bullying. Now, did I experience it in a way that would make me want to kill myself? No, but that may have more to do with the fact that regardless of how I was bullied I always knew that I would not be in the same place as the bully for very long. Hey, it's one advantage to being a military brat!

So, why is today different? Because today the world is so much smaller than the world was in the 80s when the biggest issue I had with a bully was having a penny or two thrown at me in the high school hallways to see if I would pick it up because I was Jewish. (Yeah, that really happened.) Today bullying happens on this wonderful tool called the Internet which sends said bullying out into the world to be online forever and ever and ever potentially affecting someone for life.

What do I mean by affecting someone for life? How about - affecting their opportunity to be private if they wish? Or killing their chances at that dream job? Or maybe, unfortunately, causing them such great anguish they decide to harm themselves in someway that they cannot come back from.

There has been a lot of attention on suicides which may have been initiated by bullying behavior in the past year, mostly sex related bullying (i.e. - outing individuals and sexting), and the rise in suicide has been tragic. Those of us who were children and young adults before the advent of easy to use world wide, instant communication like to say "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem!"

But what if the problem isn't temporary anymore? How can you escape something that has been posted online and then reposted, and reposted and reposted again? Even if the original post is taken down there is still the chance that someone, somewhere has a copy of the file and it may come back to haunt you in the future.

There's a great scene in one of my favorite movies, "Notting Hill." In it Anna Scott, played by Julia Roberts, is chased by a choice she made in the past. As a young actress struggling to make it in Hollywood, Anna chose to do a racy photo shoot which, it turns out, included some racy film as well. In this case it was the British press who did the bullying by following her everywhere just to get a photo. Anna tries to gain sanctuary at William Thacker's home but ends up being located. The argument that ensues deals with perspective and exactly how long photos of their morning after will last. It's Anna's line that strikes me as appropriate here, but this portion of the scene may give us all some perspective on just how long something, once published, will last:

"William: Today's newspapers will be lining tomorrow's waste paper bins.

Anna: Excuse me?

William: Well you know, it's just one day. Tomorrow today's papers will all be thrown out.

Anna: You really don't get it. This story will be filed. Anytime anyone writes anything about me, they'll dig up these photos. Newspapers last forever. I'll regret this forever."

So, while we have now shown without a doubt that newspapers do not in fact last forever, their content does. As does the content unleashed on the Internet in any form.

But so do words and actions on the playground, or in a mom's group, or in the hallway at work or school. Sticks and stones may break out bones, but words will last forever.

Remember that the next time you start to say something you wouldn't want said about yourself. Especially in front of your children. I know I will.

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