In my last blog, I warned of how the Internet can be used by others to bully, harass, intimidate and humiliate. This week the news came that Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student took his own life by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge after his privacy was invaded and streamed live on the Internet. This was an extraordinarily sad example of, not only how technology can magnify an invasion of one's privacy, but how detached, mean-spirited, and ignorant we can be as humans.
Two of Tyler's fellow-students, including his college roommate, are accused of secretly video-taping this young man in what he believed was a very private moment, and then streaming it live on the Internet while tweeting about it. Did they truly not realize the evil act that they were perpetrating? Are teens and young adults so self-absorbed that they cannot see beyond their own wants and needs to recognize how hateful such an act is? Are they somehow desensitized? If so, why?
Indeed, the photos broadcast of Tyler's fellow-students depict two nice-looking young people smiling as they are, presumably, preparing to embark on adulthood and a promising college career. They certainly do not appear patently evil. But I can't help but feel that is what their behavior suggests.
Of course, I am sure there will be friends and loved-ones appearing on television to defend them. We will probably hear how these are two good kids who made a poor decision in which they failed to recognize the seriousness of their actions or the harm that they could bring. So how then did they get to this place of gross insensitivity and callousness that ultimately provoked an 18-year-old to end his life?
And the cruelty was continued by others even after Tyler's death. While on Facebook, I looked for a memorial page for this young man. In doing a search, I found a page in his name with what was portrayed in the media as Tyler's former Facebook profile picture. I clicked on it to find that it was a page that another intolerant, heartless person had created, copying Tyler's photo and creating a profile that, in only a few words, was filled with bigotry and hate. (The Facebook page was reported and gone the next day.)
What are people taught, or not taught, by their parents that they can be so insensitive and cruel to others?
Perhaps the administrators at Rutgers were wondering the same. Ironically, it was only a few weeks before this tragedy that Rutgers announced "Project Civility." A two-year project consisting of "discussions, lectures, and student-driven activities" intended to "advance civility on campus and beyond." Rutgers hopes that its forums will encourage open dialogue that would cultivate compassion. As I listened recently to talk-radio hosts mock the idea of the Rutgers project as a waste of money that would do nothing to advance a helpless society; I now wonder whether all schools ought to have such forums. If civility, empathy, kindness, and compassion are not being taught at home then shouldn't it be taught at the schools? Aren't these things just as important in advancing our youth to be good, productive citizens as, say, math and science?
I would hope that most of us try to raise our kids to be caring, compassionate human beings. But maybe some parents don't have it in them. Maybe they were not raised that way so they don't have the ability to teach it. Tyler's parents spoke out this week following his death saying that they hoped their family's tragedy "will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity. We can only hope.