Karen Klein, 68, of Greece, N.Y., talks about the verbal abuse she endured from middle school students.
It has been said that one can put a price on anything. Perhaps that is so. When it comes to bullying a bus monitor, there is no doubt about it — the price currently stands at over $500,000 (editor’s note: updated number inset below) and it’s going up by the hour.
Karen Klein is a bus monitor in Greece, N.Y. Earlier this week, a group of middle school kids tormented and abused Klein. Their verbal taunts ranged from mean-spirited cracks about her weight and age to fantasizing about stabbing and torturing her. A video of this went viral and among the responses was an online fund set up to raise money for Klein.
With an original goal of raising $5,000 to send the victim on a “recovery vacation,”indiegogo.com has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Klein. That’s way beyond any typical vacation and way beyond any proportional response to the hurt Klein suffered.
It’s not that her suffering should be minimized, but even if no more money is raised, that would be about tens of thousands of dollars per minute of verbal abuse by a bunch of children. Without, I hope sounding glib, where can I sign up for that deal? What’s going on here?
For starters, “virality” is neither good nor bad, it just is. While there is obviously no moral equivalence between the bullies and the donors to the fund establishedon Klein’s behalf, both reflect the fact that people like to join with others, and things which they might not otherwise do alone, for good or for bad, suddenly make great sense when done in community.
My guess is that the kids involved fueled each other’s expressions of cruelty. Without a group to rationalize the perverse behavior, what might have been an isolated crack became a feeding frenzy of cruelty. With all the debate about how to punish the kids involved, and they certainly deserve to be punished, I hope that people don’t ignore this larger moral educational issue.
Likewise, the expectations of the fund’s foundershave exceeded both expectation and frankly, some degree of rationality for very similar reasons. The irrationally good becomes increasingly reasonable when done in community.
I mean, does this sum of money for verbal abuse really make sense when kids go to bed hungry, when medical research needs funding, etc., etc., etc. Really? The response is certainly beautiful, but were people not joining what they experience as an active community of givers, it is unlikely that this much money would have been raised.
So while the bullies and the donors could not be more different in some regards, they are also more alike than either they, or we, might otherwise realize. We are social animals, as David Brooks might say. Our sense of what is right and wrong is shaped by the social context in which we find ourselves and the patterns which we inherit. It’s why the ancient rabbis teach that good deeds follow good deeds and bad deeds follow bad ones. We are creatures of habit.
We are creatures of habit, but we are also creatures of choice. The real story here is about which habits we choose to cultivate and with whom we choose to cultivate them.
Did Hirschfield get it wrong –or right? Tell On Faith in the comments below or On Twitter, what does the bullying of Karen Klein –and the viral response –say to you about human nature?
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