In what surely serves as further evidence that life is now just one grand reality show and we are all bit players, a video went viral last week that captured several seventh grade boys tormenting 68-year-old bus monitor Karen Klein for over 10 minutes and tragically reducing her to tears. The 13-year-old boys subjected her to what can only be described as gut-wrenching Grand Guignol cruelty theater, stooping low enough to taunt Karen about one of her children that had committed suicide.
You’ve probably seen the video clip or at least heard about the situation on the news and by now, I’m sure you have heard about what Paul Harvey would have tantalizingly teased as “the rest of the story.” It seems that a website designed by a sympathetic soul eager to raise a few bucks to send Karen Klein on a vacation has raised over $700,000. That’s enough to cover her bus monitor salary for about 50 years.
Wow. At least that had a happy ending right? Modern technology allowed us to go all the way from outrage straight to the silver lining in under 24 hours. Time to turn our collective attention to a Kardashian or something until “Real Bus Monitors of Upstate New York” comes out on television, right? Not so fast. Not. So. Fast. In an interview with Ann Curry on The Today Show, Karen Klein said something unbelievably profound and fascinating that filled me with terror. “Actually, I would like to, eventually, not right away, ask them why they did it... (I want) an apology and an explanation.’’ Catch that? An explanation. Why did those kids do that to her? And in true “Let’s Make a Deal” fashion I am yelling at my television, imploring Karen Klein to take the money from Monty Hall and not dare to ask what is behind Door Number 2.
I understand the curiosity and since we are using game show metaphors, “why” is definitely the $64,000 question. But I wonder if Mrs. Klein and if the rest of the country is prepared for the possible answer. Picture this in your mind’s eye. Try to picture one of the little miscreants on Oprah and as the camera zooms in, Oprah asks in her Serious Voice, “Young man, why would you say such terrible, awful, cruel, hateful things to a sweet elderly bus monitor? Why oh why oh why?” And as the studio audience holds its collective breath and we all lean in towards our screen of choice, the teenage terrorist pauses, ponders, looks into the camera, shrugs, and says semi-interrogatively, “Uh, I dunno. I guess maybe we were just bored. Or something.”
The uncomfortable fact is, those boys probably do not know why they did it. And neither do their parents. And neither do we. Their inability to answer this question, as well as our own inability to answer it, raises several other- perhaps even more disturbing- questions. What is wrong? What the heck is wrong? What’s wrong when you can’t say what’s wrong?
Let those questions percolate today. Don’t rush toward safe, pat answers. Bad parenting. Toxic culture. Too many violent video games. Too much mercury or Yellow #5. Not enough of this. Too much of that. Breakdown of the family. Breakdown of society. Breakdown of a protein in the brain or something. We simultaneously have dozens of answers and none at all. We all agree that what those kids did was completely and totally wrong but ask why and the consensus immediately evaporates into the ether. What’s wrong nowadays? Be careful how you answer: how you diagnose the problem will determine what you prescribe as the solution. And do we ever need solutions
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Every now and then the Chattanoogan has a well-written opinion letter sent in by someone who is not only intelligent, but actually has something to say.
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From personal experience, and having been on the receiving end of similar, and even far worst taunts and even threats, Mr. Daum, I can assure you what these children committed is quite mild when compared to what some adults running in packs are capable of committing. You see there's usually always an "alpha dog" involved. Sometimes, there maybe more than one, and then there's the followers.
The abuse and torment of Mrs. Klein at the hands of those students shown throughout the nation, as well as in a few other countries, I personally witnessed and experienced at the hands of adults. In my personal situation the "alpha dog" was a trusted member of authority who gathered a lot of gullible and dedicated followers. The good part in it all is at least one of the followers stepped away and did eventually personally write me a letter to apologize. The letter was truly heartfelt, remorseful and honest. I of course accepted his apology. I still have that letter inside a book of Helen Rice inspirational poems and words of wisdom.
I'm not sure if there actually is a solution as long as there are adults capable of being even meaner children. After all, such behavior in children is nothing more miniature mirror reflections often found in adults behaving badly. The only thing that can be done in situations like this is to always seek out and expose the "alpha dog(s)." When that's done the pack weakens and will usually disperse. As the strength of the "alpha dog(s)" usually rely heavily on the weakness of its gullible followers. The weaker and more gullible the followers, the stronger, more powerful and in control the alpha dog(s).
The truth is, those young boys who took part in the brutal taunting of Mrs. Klein are likely pretty good, decent kids who just got caught up in the following of the "alpha dog(s)."