Saturday, October 2, 2010

Civility: treating others with dignity, compassion and respect can save lives

On September 22, 2010 at Rutgers University, a young man who had apparently been pitilessly spied upon, videotaped and broadcast on the World Wide Web ( later reporting did not confirm this) in private dorm room moments, left a one-sentence suicide intention note on his Facebook page and subsequently jumped to his death.

Whatever glorious potentials his life may have held for him are now ended and his parents and others near and dear must weather his loss the rest of their days.

Who are all the actors in this forlorn story? Transitions in general and developmental leaps in particular are times when many of us need help. Various aspects of coming of age, such as leaving home for the first time, living amongst strangers, intense exposure to new people with different backgrounds and values, becoming sexually aware or active, loss of a first love, school or other performance pressures, unwieldy group dynamics or being singled out for differences, can put a strain on the most well adjusted young person.

Who can calculate the added complexities or intensities of one's privacy being shared on social networks?

The danger that is created in such circumstances of vulnerability should never be underestimated. People sometimes enact in one moment of despair an irreversible end even if every other moment of their lives and the instincts of their being would stand against the threat they, in their pain, suddenly pose to themselves. For reasons perhaps forever beyond knowing, Tyler Clementi did jump from the George Washington Bridge to his death in the Hudson River. Tyler Clementi was eighteen years old.

The alleged tormentor, Dharun Ravi, is eighteen years old. As he faces his capacity for hard heartedness toward his roommate, what other depths of feeling will he reel through? He’s out of school now, but likely learning about how fast things can spin out of control and how unintended consequences can leap in a single bound from the shadows of our deeds.
Was Ravi’s alleged partner an active participant or did she just witness the travesty and do nothing? If she did just stand by, Molly Wei, may be realizing how dangerous it can be to be complacent about other’s bad ideas, and what it can cost to be passive or afraid to stand up for what is right.

And what of those individuals who tuned in and watched and wrote about the invasion of Tyler Clementi’s privacy without concern for him or the principles, ethic and laws violated? We err in commission, but there are also errors of omission.
Mr. Clementi’s family statement has been quoted in several news stories I have read:

"We understand that our family's personal tragedy presents important legal issues for the country as well as for us," said a statement from the family.

"Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity," the statement said.
We are already a land of many laws. Even if it weren’t illegal to invade another’s privacy, to do so is gross disrespect of others; and ultimately we cannot disrespect the lives of others without diminishing our own. What we need to enact is heart for others, not just for people like us, or for people we understand, but for everyone....for  we are the  people, that hold  such truths "to be self-evident, "  that is to say, to be part of natural law.  Person by person, will our social institutions affirm that development of character evidenced by respect for others is of primal importance and the foundation of any real education?   I hope so.

Life is fragile and civility, treating others with dignity, compassion and respect, can save lives.

I want to believe that the Clementi’s are not asking for the impossible.


Sarah Beth said...

This is beautiful, thank you, Mom!

Haddock said...

An unfortunate incidence.
Perhaps the fast pace of development is to blame?

MKM said...

Thank you for posting this. This is the most insightful post I have seen regarding this issue; much better than the heartless politicizing of the story that I have heard on a daily basis here.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Been talking about this issue in the classrooms where I teach. I share your concern about where we are headed with all this careless voyeurism with simultaneous threat/lure of instant www broadcasting--such everlasting consequences. I am with you, championing compassion, dignity, respect.

John said...

Nicely put, I too am saddened by this growing epidemic of uncivil behavior. We have always had, and will always have bullies, the challenge is how to deal with them without meeting them at their level. I am not sure how we instill in youth a strong sense of self, and confidence and independence to stand up to the pain these selfish acts inflict.