vendredi, octobre 18, 2013

Can Rebecca's death change us?

In the midst of this past week's shutdown and uncivil war in Washington, you might not have been paying attention to the story of the Florida preteen who jumped off a cement tower and killed herself in September.

Two girls, one 14 and one 12, have been charged with felony aggravated stalking in the wake of Rebecca Sedwick's death. 

The mother of one of the accused,  alleged to have beaten several children, has been arrested on unrelated charges today. They include child neglect and child abuse. She apparently told authorities she was "having a bad day."

It's really hard not to speculate on the family environment that created a teenager who could relentlessly taunt a younger girl, and perhaps even drive her to her death.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. It always is -- complicated.  But there's no getting around that what these two girls are alleged to have done ("drink bleach and die", "kill yourself" because you are "ugly" they said to Rebecca on Facebook) was evil.

I don't see any difference between tormenting her online while she was alive and being gleeful, as they apparently were, after she died. 

Both behaviors were the products of depraved minds.

Nothing will bring little Rebecca back. This case will get attention for a while, and then things will quiet down for a bit.

But I wonder what lesson we adults can take from it -- one that may keep the memory of a vulnerable young woman alive in a meaningful way.

For this isn't just about two  mean girls and their victim. It's not just about cyberbullying and students. It's not even about depression, or poor parenting.

Part of the problem here is us.

I've been pondering a commentary by my former editor, Jana Riess, in her blog "Flunking Sainthood" (she writes it for Religion News Service).

Jana, who is compassionate, gentle, and tactful, talks about what it's like to be "unfriended" on Facebook.

" I think it’s precisely the lack of awkward silences or ugly confrontations that hurts most. The hollowness I feel is made worse by the fact that other people tend to regard Facebook relationships so casually," she concludes.
I'd go one step further than Jana.  When we converse online, we are tempted not solely to treat each other casually, but to de-humanize the "other" altogether.
Our "friends can become objects. At our worst, we use them for target practice, to score points with someone else, or to reinforce our own sense of moral superiority.
Many conversations are polite and restrained  -- others descend rapidly into name-calling and ugliness.
It's easier that way, is it not?  After all, if the person on the other end of the monitor is a disembodied mind or a voice in your monologue, then they can't really be wounded by our vitriol.
If you are a Christian, that happens to be heresy.  If you are a member of the same species, well, it's frightening.
I don't know why Rebecca Sedwick jumped off that cement tower.  I wonder what adults were paying attention to her. I wonder if anyone was watching when she dated a 13-year-old, or checked her Facebook page, or asked her if she was blue.
But I can't change what happened to Rebecca. I can, however, monitor the way I treat other people online -- and pray that we all recognize the power of this tool.
In the wrong hands, it can be deadly. 


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