It’s been heartbreaking to read about the 14-year-old Aussie girl, Dolly, who committed suicide after relentless cyber bullying.
How did humanity become so cold and cruel?
How do you sleep at night knowing you have actively contributed to the despair of others?
I’d have trouble ever sleeping again.
Mia Freedman wrote on Facebook yesterday: “Who you are online is who you really are. There is no ‘online you’ and ‘real you’. If you send cruel messages or leave bullying comments towards someone on text or social media, then you are an arsehole. You are cruel. That’s who you are. Be decent. Be kind.”
Her words resonated with me quite strongly.
I didn’t have the best time at school, some of the behaviour I was subjected to may have bordered on bullying, but it was small stuff. I kept my head down, made it through high school and got on with my life. I never even contemplated taking my own life.
I experienced far worse bullying in the workplace, which stole my joy, almost destroyed my emotional health and contributed to the collapse of my marriage.
I have done a lot of healing since then, though sometimes it only takes the smallest of setbacks for that aching despair to fill my chest again. I am a far more sensitive soul than I was 10 years ago.
It probably wasn’t the best idea for someone who has been shattered by bullying to start blogging, but I did.
So far, the abuse I’ve encountered on social media has been pretty tame. I’ve been called a few nasty names and attacked a couple of times by virtual strangers – oddly, never by total strangers – but I was quite shocked when a former colleague and Facebook friend lashed out at me about a year back.
It was so left-field and nasty and unexpected.
Fortunately I’ve forgotten her exact words and don’t feel like searching them out again. But I recall that she was very angry with me – and my blog – in a way that I didn’t quite understand and which I decided must have been provoked by problems in her own life.
I asked if she was OK and received more late-night abuse in response, so I unfriended her and moved on with my life.
Looking back, what startled me most was the lack of awareness she showed. She is the mother of a young daughter and an intelligent woman. How could she not see that her words were unnecessarily mean-spirited and cruel and very far from what she would want anyone to say to her own child online?
What role models are we for kids if we think it’s OK as adults to say ugly things on social media?
As another former colleague wrote on Instagram following Dolly’s death – and recalling the schoolyard bullying that has shaped her own life and personality – “I imagine that from the outside my life looks shiny. Life often looks that way. It’s not always that way however. Choose your words carefully. Be gentle and kind when you can – pretty much always. When you’re not either, when you make a mistake or say something nasty, own it. Go back. Explain. Apologise. And be especially giving to the vulnerable – such as Dolly.”
However, as I noted on Facebook after writing a blog post earlier this week about the benefits of avoiding a vicious divorce: “But will they listen?”
I hope that they will, but I worry that they won’t. The lack of accountability modern digital life and the rise of high-profile dicks like Donald Trump has fostered a belief that we don’t need to be nice or kind or gentle in our cyber interactions.
Sadly, the truth is cyber bullying probably won’t stop simpluy because the media draws attention to kids killing, no matter how horrifying the stories may be.
All we can do is show kindness in our own circles and play our own small part in helping chase the rot away.
Song of the day: Lady Gaga “Born this way”