Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet and Sour Tiffany: Casey Heynes

Sweet Sour  By now, most everyone has heard of Casey Heynes, the Australian teenager who was videotaped standing up to a bully.  If you have not watched the video yet, I strongly recommend you do so here before reading on. Casey is the larger child being punched before fighting back. Many people the world over are calling him a hero, a champion of the bullied and downtrodden kids everywhere.  But something about this whole situation just does not sit well with me.  So let's examine it, Sweet and Sour Tiffany style, and talk about what is right, wrong, and questionable.

The Sweet
Who among us has never been teased, left out, tripped, called names, bullied, or abused by others at some point in our lives?  I would venture to say none of us.  And children are the most susceptible.  I would imagine every bullied child fantasizes about standing up to his or her attackers, fighting back, fighting for respect.  Casey did just that, and it would seem that this would give hope to many other bullied children.

While schools have a "zero tolerance" policy on many things, often including bullying, it is very difficult to actually squash bullying.  If a kid reports to a teacher that he or she is being bullied, there is often an investigation.  Since bullying is hard to prove, many times the bully gets off scott free, only to torture the child in question for going to a teacher or adult in the first place.  So, often the situation seems helpless.  Casey's reaction validates that bullying needs to be addressed in a new way from school administrators.  His actions are reportedly the culmination of several years' worth of anger from being bullied. The school failed to address the situation, and failed to provide a safe environment.

Bullying happens to all kids, and this situation helped raise a little more awareness.  Recently, Dan Savage began the It Gets Better Project, which I think is awesome, to help encourage gay, lesbian, and transgendered youth that life gets better, and is worth living for, in response to the huge upswing of suicides among gay teens.  I love the project, but what about all the other kids?  The fat kids, the poor kids, the freckled kids, the special needs kids.  ALL KIDS GET BULLIED.  Casey says he contemplated suicide.  This has to stop.

We are a culture of free speech at any expense.  I am exhibiting it now, actually.  And there is a huge rise in snarky humor websites that pretty much poke fun of, and in a sense bully, all kinds of people.  Based on the crafts you make, what you wear to Walmart, what you post on Facebook.  Everything.  And the vitriol on these sites is overwhelming. If bullies are merely insecure, then there are a lot of insecure, miserable people out there.  And the internet allows you to bully in new, anonymous ways.  Clearly bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed. Casey did so in the only way that made sense to him.

The Sour
While Casey acted on impulse, something many of us would also probably do, there are real consequences to such behavior.  He got suspended from school, as did the bully.  While people are outraged at this, I think it pretty fair.  The child could have been really harmed, I am amazed his ankle was not broken. Kids have to learn there are consequences for all behaviors.  What if that child had hit his head and died? Would we still be hailing Casey? The action would have been precipitated in the same way, so would we still be cheering him on?

I find Casey's interviews quite disturbing.  He seems so removed, so disconnected, as does his father. I think that both boys need to get some counseling, because there is clearly a lot of pain, anger, and sadness in both of them.  Casey could be a great role model, if this is handled correctly.  Or, if handled incorrectly, he could end up an angry defiant man.

The internet has hailed this kid as an icon.  But what he is, really, is a vigilante. And people tend to love vigilantes. Just pick up a comic book to see how much vigilante justice is ingrained in our culture.  But when played out in real life, things get bloody awfully fast. Perhaps I am a starry eyed optimist, or simply just an eternal rule follower, but I see vigilante justice as a stop along the way to anarchy and chaos.  Rules are put in place for a reason.

In some ways, I admire Casey, for defending himself, and I really do "get it" why so many people support him.  The bottom line is bullying is awful, and needs to be addressed.  Schools and parents need to get more involved and find a better solution.  Otherwise, more kids are going to commit suicide, and more kids are going to try to be Casey, with fatal results.  How many children need to die before we address the real issue here?

So that being said, if the Sweet and Sour didn't completely fill you up, move along to the fortune cookie.