11/05/2013 12:35 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Be Different: Stand Up to Bullies by Living Well

When asked what he wanted to be, Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock pauses, then says, "I wanted to be... different." Braddock, the protagonist of The Graduate, is not only isolated from his parents, he is also ostracized from his own generation.

And that is true of so many people who make a difference. They are indeed different, whether they want to be or not.

We need only recall Bob Dylan, who was hailed as the voice of a generation yet may have felt constrained by the demands of his fans. As he sang, "I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them."

Fortunately, Bob Dylan kept singing "Maggie's Farm," and he has written countless works of genius over the past 50 years since he went electric.

When I was growing up, I certainly did not want or try to be different, but I was different nonetheless. Rather than play outside with the other kids, I often watched old Warner Brothers movies from the 1930s and '40s.

I also had a Samson complex and never wanted to get my hair cut.

That may have been because my mother, whom I love, instructed the barber to give me English boy or Dutch boy haircuts. She also dressed me in lederhosen and sailor suits, so that I looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy.

None of this went over well with some of my classmates in elementary school.

As painful as it was to be ridiculed for my appearance, even by my so-called best friend, whom I had known since kindergarten, I never stopped being the idiosyncratic individual that I am.

I mention all of this because nowadays so many young people, whether they are 10 years old or 20, seem to think that the only way out of humiliation is to take their own lives or to take the lives of others.

I am not suggesting that there is a bullying epidemic. According to, the percentage of kids in grades 6-12 who have been bullied is 28 percent, not 98 percent. And most kids who are bullied do not commit suicide or kill others. Moreover, there is never any one reason why a person commits suicide.

However, perhaps due to our 24/7 news cycle, we all seem to read about or watch televised accounts of bullying with more frequency than in the past.

In recent weeks, a boy in a Nevada public school allegedly told some of his classmates that they had ruined his life and now he would ruin theirs. He shot and killed his teacher, a Marine veteran of the war in Afghanistan, before he killed himself.

Then there is Paul Ciancia, 23, the suspect in last week's killing of a TSA agent at LAX. Ciancia, who has been charged with murder and could face the death penalty, may have been bullied in high school, according to a former high school classmate.

While some young people adopt a nihilistic view about life, schools have not always helped. In October of this year, Carterville High School in Carterville, Ill., showed a video of a boy who was bullied and who went on to commit suicide.

What happened? The next day, one of the boys who watched the video killed himself.

Let me be clear to young people: As painful as life may be, you should NEVER commit suicide or homicide! There are always much healthier and less destructive options available to you.

Consider Holocaust survivors, who were victims of the most depraved evil this planet has ever seen. Many survivors of the concentration camps have famously gone on to lead successful, productive lives. That might seem counter-intuitive. But these brave and resilient men and women adapted to their horrors by refusing to commit suicide. They embraced and continue to embrace the mantra of "I wouldn't give the bastards the satisfaction."

And that is how we all need to live, whether we have been bullied or not.

The way to counter bullying is to be true to yourself and to realize that if you are different, like Bob Dylan or Benjamin Braddock, you are much more likely, as you get older, to enrich the world with your unique perspective on life.

While bullying has morphed to an extent from face-to-face clashes to anonymous acts of sadism on social media, it has always existed.

Not everyone can be like the fellow in the Charles Atlas advertisement, who muscles up with weights and beats up a bully on the beach. But the good news is that the law is starting to catch up to the advances in technology. In some situations, young people can now enlist the services of attorneys or prosecutors to sue or even bring criminal charges against bullies who stalk or harass them on the Internet.

Of course, some students and their parents have been frustrated by the failure of teachers to stop or intervene in cyber-bullying cases. The law needs to improve on that by allowing teachers to be more responsive to off-campus bullying incidents, whether in cyberspace or on the streets.

But young people should also know that the moronic and cruel comments left by their peers on social media will in the end amount to nothing more than noise. Please do not worry too much about these postings. When you get older, you will be able to look back at those posts, if you look at them at all, and recognize that they served only to indict and forever disgrace the perpetrators, not the victims.

If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -- 800.273.TALK (8255).