Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bullying's toll

I'm usually a fairly happy-go-lucky person. I don't dwell for too long on the bad stuff in life, and I think I have pretty solid coping mechanisms. When I heard the news that Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide after an encounter he had with another man was put up on the web without his knowledge or permission, I shuddered.

Then came Ellen's plea on TV about anti-gay bullying, and I began to pay more attention. On the heels of these two tales, the Minneapolis Star Tribune just had a front page story about schools struggling with how to deal with anti-gay bullying after seven, yes SEVEN, students committed suicide IN THE LAST YEAR in one metro district alone.

Double-take. WHAT?! I certainly don't live with my head in the sand, but holy cow, I was, and still am, shocked. So. What does this have to do with writing?

As writers we use words to evoke many emotions, and have the ability to make people feel certain ways. One writer, Julie Ann Peters, uses her stories as a launchpad for numerous social issues. One of her books, By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead, directly addresses the issue of youth bullying and suicide. I know there are many other books out there that take on bullying of all kinds, and I applaud those who use their writing magic to expose issues like this, issues that are so easily overlooked.

This unfortunate situation serves to remind me that, as an author, the topics we pick and the choices we make in our stories can make a huge difference to our readers, and can go so far as to be a tie-breaker between death and life. As I travel along my writing journey, I'm going to remember that. No one needs to feel like they are going through this kind of thing alone. There is help and there is hope.
Bingo Barge Murder May 1st, 2011


circuitmouse said...

Thank you~so well stated. I thought for all the iron-stomach moments I'd endured as a volunteer in the LA County General Hospital (largest civilian public hospital in what we used to call the "free world"), I would have a less emotional response to this issue. Perhaps in part it's that my youngest brother is a graduate of the same school as Clementi.

During my years as a journalist it was understood that we had a very high ethic to strive for; you've reminded me that with my fiction, I hope to remember that why I want to write is as much to entertain as be of service.

Mystery authors get short shrift as writers given the opportunity to right wrongs that in the real world are left unresolved. In all likelihood I won't be able to directly save a life, but as they said in the 60s, either you're part of the problem or you're part of the solution.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Excellent and thoughtful post, Jessie. Hopefully these latest bullying-induced tragedies will finally bringing to light and make us do something about the long term and immediate consequences of bullying, no matter if it's gay bashing, fat bashing, or any type of bullying. Recently a high school girl in Massachusetts committed suicide because of taunting over her sexual activity, and still another killed herself over sextexting. You would have thought Columbine would have taught us something. How soon we forget.

As writers, we have a unique opportunity to teach and entertain at the same time - if we have the guts to take on the difficult subjects.

Beth Groundwater said...

My husband and I watched the movie Milk last night, and it's sad that 40 years after Harvey Milk's assassination, young people are still committing suicide after being bullied and abused for their sexual orientation.

As Matthew 25:40 says:
"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'"

Every human being, no matter their race, sex, age, size, disability, or sexual orientation, deserves our respect, until they commit a crime against humanity, like those videotaping students did.

Now, back to writing. I try to include a social issue of some sort as a subplot in my books, though I don't get on the soapbox when I do. I just show how the issue affects the characters and let readers draw their own conclusions. I think including the social issue makes the book more discussion-worthy and thought-provoking.

Darrell James said...

Well stated, Jessie. I consider my first priority as a "fiction writer" is to entertain and inspire imagination.

But I do believe there's a opportunity (if not a responsibility) for writers to use their influence for the better good. There's nothing that makes me cry (therefore feel) more quickly, than a story where courage and compassion wins out over ignorance and evil.


Jessie Chandler said...

Mark, I think that it's time for the emotional response to expose itself, as it seems to be doing. I just had CNN on, and Anderson Cooper is going to do a piece on bullying in its many forms. I just hope the momentum can keep going and this problem can be addressed as it should.

Sue Ann, it's amazing how kids seem to manage to focus on the most hurtful and deeply scarring of subjects to attack. It's also horrible how deeply this kind of thing affects the adults who have lived through it. While healing does happen, the scars will remain forever.

Beth, Milk was breathtaking and heartbreaking. It should be assigned viewing in schools, along with other shows dealing with bullying of all types. Schools are where this starts, at least where the manifestation of bullying begins.

Darrell, courage and compassion are honorable. Ignorance and evil are just plain wrong. Very eloquently stated.

davethedogandmetoo said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful and important posting! In all of this, we also need to remember those that are being bullied for ANY reason whether it is GLBT related or not. Bullying and Teasing need to stop.

Thanks for you insight!

Alice Loweecey said...

Excellent post. Thank you.

G.M. Malliet said...

Is it me, or is there more bullying among the young these days? This story was so sad.

Carol Grace said...

Let's hope these stories shine the light on the horrors of bullying and maybe one day it will be a thing of the past. Dare we hope?

Jessie Chandler said...

Thanks Alice! G.M., I think bullying has gone on forever, but the difference now it the amount of exposure it's getting. Social media and now even the news outlets are oicking it up. Thank goodness. And, Carol? We will ALWAYS dare hope!

Kathleen Ernst said...

So well stated, Jessie. We so often feel helpless in the face of such tragedy...and yet we do have our words, which can be potent indeed.

By the way, it was great to meet you at Killer Cocktails!