By now, you’ve probably heard of Karen Klein, the 68-year-old school bus monitor from upstate New York who was mocked and harassed by a group of teenagers. Klein, a widower and whose oldest son committed suicide about 10 years ago, was taunted by a mob of kids because, among other things, she was overweight.
The entire encounter was posted on YouTube and can be viewed here. Fair warning: it is very disturbing.
I first caught wind of Klein’s story while watching Bill O’Reilly this past week. Glenn Beck was his guest that evening and he referred to the children as “dead” on the inside. I won’t go so far as to make that same assertion, but what I do know is that this type of behavior is disgusting, very un–Christian, and needs to stop.
But it invites larger question: do teenagers today behave worse than teenagers of the past? I would probably say yes. But you would think that with all these anti-bullying laws being passed, teenagers would think twice before harassing another person – especially a senior citizen.
To be honest, I’m lukewarm about all the anti-bullying stuff. Its goals are noble but it’s usually grounded in some type of a secular egalitarianism.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with laws that try to eradicate bullying, though. Mocking other humans should stop, and we, as Catholics, have an obligation to work towards a society in which all people are afforded their dignity.
But these laws seem like just another way of addressing the symptom instead of the underlying root cause of bullying.
I believe that without parents and positive role models for children to look up to, kids will continue to grow up emulating the prideful, selfish and destructive behaviors they see not only in pop culture, but in politics as well.
Remember the Jared Lee Loughner rampage back in 2011? To his credit, President Obama played the role of uniter in chief in a speech in Arizona by calling on elected officials to tone down their political rhetoric and talk in a way “that heals, not a way that wounds.” But the days and months that followed were anything but well mannered.
Just weeks after the president’s speech, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed that Republicans were not only at war with women, but that they wanted to push grandma off a cliff and drag society back to the Jim Crow era. She didn’t just disobey the president’s desire to use words that heal, she contradicted her own claim that “the demonization of our [political] leaders is absolutely unacceptable.”
Schultz isn’t alone in her outlandish remarks. Howard Dean, a former Democratic candidate for president, recently accused Republicans of being racist; claiming that they simply “don’t like Latinos.” Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball, similarly referred to the Tea Party as a bunch of “crackpots” not long ago.
Democrats, however, are not the only ones guilty of incivility. Radio talk show host Michael Savage regularly refers to the president and his administration as nothing more than a group of thugs and gangsters. Conservative columnists Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter have made similar claims.
As a writer, I too am guilty of incivility at times. Being a polemicist is much more enjoyable than being a non controversialist. But whenever I stray too far into the name calling end of the spectrum, I try to remind myself about how the gift of language is supposed to be used.
The Letter of James tells us that even though “the tongue is a small part of the body” it “corrupts the whole body.” Like the spark of fire that sets the forest ablaze, the tongue often “boasts great things” and cannot be easily tamed. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” that simultaneously praises “our Lord and Father” but also “curses human beings, who have been made in God’s image.” (James 3: 5-10)
Likewise, the Book of Sirach warns against letting “your mouth become used to coarse talk” because a “man who has the habit of abusive language will never mature in character.” (Sirach 23:13,15) It also directs us not to disgrace ourselves “before the city’s populace” (Sirach 7:7) and to always have sincerity in our speech, for a “man’s tongue can be his downfall” and is not to be used “in calumny.” (Sirach 5:15-16)
Furthermore, and perhaps most appropriate for Catholics involved in politics, are the words found in the Second Letter of Peter: “There will also be false prophets among the people” and “many will follow their licentious ways.” However, “like irrational animals” that “revile things that they do not understand,” they will “seduce unstable people” by “talking empty bombast.” They will tempt them with “desires of the flesh” by “promising freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption.” (2 Peter 2: 1-22)
As we move forward in the coming weeks and months, we should remind ourselves of these passages. Yes, the battle to preserve our religious freedom will require civil disobedience, debate and thoughtful discussion. But if we are moved by the Holy Spirit to speak our mind, let us do so in a way that is reverent and glorifies God.
Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and featured columnist at RenewAmerica.com. Follow him on twitter @StephenKokx