This story about young Keaton Jones, a boy who poured his heart out as his mother filmed his teary-eyed confession and posted it on social media, is heartbreaking. No innocent person deserves to be treated with such disrespect. That being said, the response to this video has me concerned with the profound lack of understanding when it comes to bullying.
I used to be a bully.
My friends and I once made a book of fat jokes that landed us in trouble with the school and incentivized a female classmate to leave in the middle of the school year. We were 11.
The armchair psychologists who plague social media with their uninformed yet equally passionate responses would blame my parents for not showing me how to respect other kids. In the case of Keaton Jones, an armada of celebrities would call for some sort of new measures to stop me from ever doing such a heinous thing again.
The truth is that my parents taught me well, and I knew what I was doing was wrong. However, there is something truly primal that happens when you exert power over another person. When the girl I teased left school, I wore it as a badge of honor. I was mean and nasty. I could dominate another person into total submission. I felt powerful.
I used to be a victim of bullying.
I grew up as the only white kid in an all-black neighborhood. Since I was different, my “friends” used to try to get me to do stupid things all the time. I went along because I was desperate to fit in. One time, they coaxed me into a fight with a kid from another street. We did not know each other, but somehow were convinced that we should fight. I had never punched another person, and the “fight” did not go well for me. I was 8.
School was not much better for me. I rode the bus with mostly black students, one of which seemed to make it his life mission to mock me for being poor. He threatened to fight me almost every day, and I cowered in fear awaiting the time he would strike. My previous experience dictated that I would not fare well. Almost 30 years later, and I still see his face. When someone said his name when informing me that his father died, I immediately got angry.
You see, I gave my power to these people. I knew that I shouldn’t, but fear drove me to act against my will.
A Complex Issue
Bullying is not just a result of faulty parenting or “bad” kids. In most situations, I was a good kid – just as I am a good man now. However, I am not impervious to doing bad things. In fact, I have a talent for doing or saying awful things to other people. If I am not careful, I can destroy someone’s day in an instant. It’s reflexive.
My parents taught me better. My wife and kids teach me to be better every day, but it is a struggle. You see, my penchant to bully others comes from the desire to show others how powerful I am. Having given my power to other people as a childhood victim of bullying, or in certain adult relationships, I learned to put up a wall. I learned how to re-direct that power.
Sometimes I can do amazing things with it. I pour my emotions into playing drums or I furiously research a contentious topic. Sometimes I escape into solidarity and pray. Sometimes, I lash out to show others that they cannot hurt me, but I can hurt them.
You see, not all bullies are always bullies. Not all have parents who ignore them. Not all of them come from broken or abusive homes. This stereotyping lynch mob mentality of our society has forgotten that applying the perceived traits of a group to an individual is an unacceptable outcome. #NotAllBullies
People Can Change
I have been a bully and victim, but now I am neither. In fact, the thought of someone getting bullied infuriates me. However, I believe that the victim mentality is one of the most dangerous trends growing in America.
The response to the Keaton Jones story is troubling to me. His video is a great conversation starter. We can discuss bullying with our friends and our children using his words as a catalyst. But what will he learn from this?
Sean Hannity is leading a charge to raise thousands of dollars. Glenn Beck is inviting Keaton to his radio studio. Dana White wants to bring him to a UFC event. Others are calling for additional fundraising and starting up new and improved anti-bullying campaigns. This kid will have tens of thousands of dollars given to him by the very same people who complain about entitled “snowflakes” who cannot withstand opposing arguments.
His bullies are about to be socially ostracized. If the community does not already know their identities, they will figure it out soon. What will the negative sanctions be? A phone call to children’s services? Public shaming? The potential for bullying the bullies without understanding WHY they say what they say is an awful precedent.
None of the children involved will have a chance at natural change. Most kids grow out of bullying by the time they reach college. Most victims learn to develop thicker skin. The power imbalance that we see in instances like this often ends up equalizing.
A massive scale public interaction disrupts potential learning opportunities for these children. Society is robbing them of a healthy growth experience. This is the impact of social media. It can lead to great things, with both positive and negative ramifications.
Let’s not overreact.
What Worked for Me
I was born a sinner. I still am. That is why I find satisfaction in the pain of others. It is natural instinct for me. Thankfully, God has forgiven me for my sins. I need not dwell on my past, which allows me to learn from it. I can take an objective look at bullying because I have lived on both sides of the issue, allowing me to step back and analyze it properly.
There will be victims if there are bullies. There will be bullying so long as there is sin. Like it or not, all societies have suffered from one form of social inequality or another. Human nature is to exert our power over another, but we can overcome human nature.
Rather than giving or taking my power to/from other people, I give it to God. I let Him deal with my problems. When someone harasses me, I pray and ask for God to handle it, so I do not have to. I have learned to hold back and not hold on to anger. The solution is not raising money or new social programs. The solution is found in the Bible.
Matt 7:12 says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
This is also known as “the golden rule.” Every sinful child must learn this principle. It is not innate. Some can grasp it more quickly than others. I pray that the bullies who are cruel to Keaton Jones learn this lesson soon, because others are about to do some not nice things to them and their families.