I think we're all bullies.
After reading about the harassment and subsequent video of Karen Klein, a bus monitor in Greece, New York, whose taunts from a group of kids went viral and has led to interviews, money for Karen to take herself on vacation, and endless support, this case of bullying feels quite different.
We've seen the terrible teacher who made her students all, in a line, hit the class bully as a reminder of how bad bullying feels as well as a reminder of how inappropriate teachers can be, we've seen the holier-than-thou girl aboard the New York Transit, taunting the employee.
But Klein feels different. Why? Because it's a group of kids taunting an authority figure, and an adult. And it doesn't affect her any less than it would if she were ten years old.
The kids tear into Klein with a group mentality that is not only frightening, but familiar to many. Harvey Weinstein put out Bully to examine the trend of bullying in schools, and what can be done to stop it.
But can we actually stop it? Or are we just a nation of mean?
I read a story about a man who sent his autistic son into school with a wire, revealing shocking and disturbing taunts from teachers. It's not that kids are meaner to each other today, it's just that everyone is meaner to everyone else.
In our society, "nice" is seen as a fault, almost -- "he was too nice," "she's just... nice" is viewed with disdain and denotes a lack of interesting character. It's deemed as too boring to be "cool." We throw taunts around about celebrities, public figures -- regardless of whether it's fat jokes, racism, sexism (really, Adam Carolla?). It doesn't matter.
Some people argue that bullying inherently occurs among groups of kids, that it's inevitable that some will be singled out more than others. Is it human nature? Or are we just complete assholes? Are we meaner than we ever were? Is there more bullying? Or is it just finally being recorded because of cell phone technology and the ability for anyone to upload anything at any time?
We live in a world where mean wins, every time. Mean sells magazines. Mean sells advertising. Mean gets the page views. I don't read my own comments, because they're too nasty. On the annals of the Internet, anyone can say anything behind a screen. It's led to numerous suicides of teens, misery and depression.
Klein's story makes me think about my own experiences with bullying -- mostly weight-related -- in middle school. I remember where I stood as a classmate told me I was a "fat loser." I remember what I was wearing. I remember what was for lunch, which I promptly threw out. For the bully, I see her around here and there, but it's etched in my mind like a brand. I'm sure she doesn't remember. I'll personally never forget. I'm 25. I was 11.
Everyone has stories like these -- young, old, black, white, girl, boy, gay, straight. And as I wrote before, bullying really has nothing to do with age, especially among women. Whether it be in a catty office environment or the epic judgment and meanness that comes from the battle between working mothers and non. I remember my own mother being bullied by a fellow parent of my brother's class -- telling her she couldn't be a room parent because she was a working mother.
We always buy the Star magazine with the most cellulite. The most tearing comments. We call every skinny celebrity who gaines ten pounds fat -- myself included, and you would think I'd think twice being that I felt what it was like to be on the other end.
Maybe it's the power of the masses -- it feels good, powerful, to be on the other side. As someone who was bullied, I've been on both. Why do we enjoy putting down others so much? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Safer, because it's not us? I remember how powerful I felt. Guilty, but powerful, as I banded together with some other girls to tell one she couldn't be in our prom limo. Trite as it may seem, it's probably branded in her brain the way "fat loser" was in mine.
So how do we make it stop?
Technology isn't helping, but it might. People online have raised over $300,000 for Klein. Now if only it wasn't a gift of money we gave, but everyone else's feelings a second thought.
Follow Meredith Fineman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/meredithfineman