First of all, it’s NOT okay. I don’t want anyone to make the mistake of thinking I’m saying that it is. All I’m saying is, I understand all sides. Every mother and father with a child, every warm-hearted caring person in America and beyond, felt for the sweet young man who sat helplessly tied up in a corner, unsure of his fate, threatened, tortured, humiliated, and ridiculed. To look at the various comments all over blogs and Facebook posts, it’s fair to say people were, and are, furious!
I don’t want to say these kids didn’t know what they were doing. That somehow seems to presume innocence. But maybe it’s fair to say they didn’t understand the gravity of what they were doing.
This boy, to them, was not one of them. No, it’s not right, it’s inflammatory, discriminatory, and a few other things. But it is, unfortunately, common. This was in some ways just another day. This young man was the brunt of their jokes in school. He was a reflection of a political candidate he, along with many others, supported. He was of a different race. And, he was developmentally disabled, and therefore weak enough to take the punishment for his other “crimes.”
Although I absolutely can’t relate to the brutality inflicted on this young man, I know the rest of the scenario well, because I was a high school kid once. I was both the child making fun of the other child everyone else made fun of, and I also had my turn as the one being bullied.
During our childhood days, my brother and sister and I had a mutual understanding of who did not fit in. It brought us together to make fun of that person, and it was fun. Even later in life, my sister and I would hang out together and have the same kind of fun. One day in our early 20s, we were swimming at her boyfriend’s apartment and a heavy set lady was trying to do laps in the pool. When she requested that we get out of her way, we together had a great time laughing and making fun of “Shamu,” as we came up with creative ways to try to avoid her, and made crude jokes at her expense.
She didn’t seem to mind, or even pay attention to us. And my sister and I had a fun time, and enjoyed our sisterly bond, as we took turns making the other one laugh.
Only a couple years ago, while I was in the Nursing Home visiting a friend’s father, I was surprised at the response of one of the patients with Alzheimers. I laughed quietly and pointed her out to my friend. It was then that the lady’s husband, who was there every day to take care of her after her disease took hold, looked at me with a serious mournful glare, and I was filled with remorse and guilt. Suddenly somber, I was struck with the realization that this was not a “funny, strange, old lady” but a loved and cared for person whom I had just insulted, along with her adoring husband.
The kids in Chicago are not innocent. But I understand their mentality. I have, I’m very sorry to say, participated in such inclinations many times along with my peers. I never physically harmed anyone. I can’t say I would have tied up and tormented one of my “victims.” But the reality is, to these kids this boy was not the same as them, and therefore, there was no empathy.
Bullying behavior is common because discrimination is common. It has been going on since the beginning of time. It is true that one should not be excused for such acts toward a mentally challenged adult. But what needs to change is a deeply ingrained mindset which is a prevalent part of humanity. The Chicago kids were demonstrating something so common, wars and political movements have begun throughout time, as a result.
The problem is buried down deep in our souls, but it is not only a problem of wanting to be cruel, it is one of wanting to belong, to have fun with friends, to take part in what is happening socially, to hang out and have a good time, and also to be hedonistic and uncaring, and carefree.
The fact that an actual person was hurt by the actions of these kids, I believe, will come as a surprise to them. In their minds he was simply an accessory to their fun. Their ignorance caused them to not see him as a real person. When this truth is realized is when rehabilitation will be a reality for them. When, and if, they realize he is as a loved, cared for cherished human being, they will feel sorry, and repent.
We as a society need to change as well. It is commonly understood today that our schools and workplaces need to be more inclusive. For this to happen, kids (and adults) need to understand that it is okay to stand alone and take a stance which is, at the time, not popular. It is okay to be different and to disagree.
Diversity means not feeling one has to be the same as a particular group in order to be accepted by them, or to not be afraid to be unaccepted.
When we as a society learn to use our God-given minds to see others with empathy and understanding; when we are able to forsake our urges for fun and belonging to choose a more contemplative route; when we are willing to stand our ground and set our own course, even when it means going against the crowd, we as members of a new and better day, will have grown.