I recently finished reading Jodi Picoult’s book Nineteen Minutes. It is the tragic story of a high school shooting which was carried out by Peter Houghton, a boy who was bullied from kindergarten through high school. As with many of her other books, Ms. Picoult writes from several different points of view, which allows the reader to see through the eyes of a variety of characters. In Nineteen Minutes, we see the story through the eyes of Peter, as well as those who bullied him.
In this book, Jodi Picoult masterfully provides the reader with enough insight into the villain that the reader is able to also see him as a tragic victim.
About the time I finished reading Nineteen Minutes, I heard a news story about a father, James Willie Jones, who had stormed a school bus to confront and scold students for harassing his 13-year old daughter who has cerebral palsy. He later apologized:
“At that time, I was a bully. And I apologize again for that. If you see the tape, I feel like I was backed up against the wall as a parent. I just didn’t know where else to go. We definitely don’t want to promote that. We don’t want vigilantes going on buses, threatening kids, because kids have rights too.”
Bullying isn’t new in our society. Though the teasing in my life has been minimal, I do remember being teased in school about silly things – what I wore, braces, being a band freak, goody-two-shoes, skinny-minny. Still, I remember the hurt I felt.
Has bullying gotten worse, or does it seem that way only because of the added exposure it receives with 24 hour news coverage? Sadly, the consequences do seem to be getting worse: school shootings, suicides.
I see varying degrees of it everywhere, not only with school-age children. It exists between adults, too, on television reality shows, in politics, on radio talk shows. It all leads us to become desensitized to it.
Bullies seem to have lost empathy for how it makes others feel. Isn’t that part of what makes us human?