I've been watching with interest the trial involving Michelle Carter, a young woman who made the disconcerting decision not only to encourage Conrad Roy III to commit suicide, but upon realizing he was following through with the act, did nothing to stop him. Today (Friday) she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Something big that I take away from this verdict? Your words and deeds matter, especially when it comes to the lives of others.
In recent months we've heard a lot about snowflakes and safe rooms and how young people need to grow thicker skin. We've also heard a lot about how bullying can not only be damaging, but can also lead to the unnecessary deaths of those being bullied.
Michelle Carter's verdict is something of an intersection between the two, and proves that sometimes, more often than we'd like to actually realize, what a bully says to a victim can be fatal.
When it comes to Carter, it's easy to lay blame on her and also her family as we question what led her to a potentially sociopathic way of behaving. But in truth we must accept some of the blame ourselves. Why? Because we have created this scenario through our obscene tolerance of hate and violence.
Years ago when my son was still in high school and Facebook was still a relatively new adventure for many young people, he tipped me off to a situation unfolding between his classmates that upset him. A girl was being bullied online and in ways that alarmed me, all in a public forum that seemed to encourage the behavior.
As the victim of childhood bullying, I immediately decided to take action of my own and was horrified when the school principal told me point blank that it was not their problem since it was happening outside of their walls. It didn't matter whether the problem started in school. All that mattered was that since it was on social media it wasn't the school's issue to deal with.
Since then many schools have since adopted policies regarding social media bullying, which is great, but at least until this landmark case I have seen so little accountability regarding the things kids post and/or text to one another that it's no wonder this trial was an eventuality.
Those of us who grew up in the age before widespread technology that allowed us to be plugged in 24/7 might have lived with the (really stupid) adage that “kids will be kids,” but today's bullying has taken a much darker turn than what we knew, and I speak from the perspective of the victim of some fairly heinous acts.
We need to immediately create a culture in which it is unconscionable for young people to say and do whatever they feel via social media and smartphones. We as adults need to remind them that there are dire consequences for telling people to kill themselves or that they should just die. We as adults need to stop empowering the bullies with excuses, and instead protect the victims with actions.
Before you ask, no I am not glad that Carter was found guilty. This is not something to be glad about. It is a tragedy on so many levels, and one that could have been prevented had different steps been taken. That said, a life was lost. Conrad Roy III is dead and compounding that is the fact that Michelle Carter encouraged that death and did nothing to prevent it. Now it's our chance to make sure something like this never happens again.