In the 10-minute YouTube video that now has more than seven million views, a New York state grandmother of eight is the victim of a relentlessly cruel verbal assault that brings her to tears.
The video, captured on a student’s cellphone, has launched an international fundraising campaign for Karen Klein and unleashed an onslaught of death threats and abuse against the bullies.
Toronto’s Max Sidorov, a victim of bullying himself as a child, wanted to send Mrs. Klein on a vacation, only to raise enough to allow her to retire with donations topping $650,000.
A range of emotions flooded me as I watched, everything from sympathy and sadness to outrage and disgust.
Many people are pointing the finger of blame at the boys’ parents, believing when children do wrong, parents have failed in their duty.
Sometimes, good kids do bad because, as much as parents influence the behaviour, values and character of their children, at some point, the approval of their peers becomes more important.
That’s not a defence of bullying, but a suggestion the lesson to be learned from this video shouldn’t only be that bullying is wrong and wreaks devastation on its victims.
Are not those who watch and do nothing equally to blame?
That nobody on that bus spoke out for Mrs. Klein — even to alert the driver — is as appalling to me as four twisted, sadistic tween punks thinking they could get away with degrading and humiliating an adult for whom they should have respect, if not simple courtesy.
If someone speaks up, bullies — who are cowards in their hearts — will typically back down.
Our children must learn not only is bullying wrong, so, too, is being a silent bystander.
For York Region anti-bullying advocate Karen Sebben, the video is an excruciating demonstration of the bullying that goes on every day in our schools — no less painful for the victims without the seven million views.
“Unfortunately, when bullying happens to children, there isn’t the same kind of reaction,” she said. “As a society, we can no longer turn a blind eye. We can no longer minimize bullying as ‘kids being kids’.”
Do we have the courage not to turn away in the face of the rampant bullying that seems ingrained in our society — everywhere from the floor of the House of Commons and our gridlocked roads to sports fields and now online, with social media unleashing bullies who ridicule and condemn under the veil of anonymity?
But social media can work both ways, as this incident demonstrates. It gives me hope that millions watched and were compelled to act.
It was too late to speak up on the bus, so they gave money.
An act of kindness is always good — and I wish Mrs. Klein well in her retirement — but, in the end, too many bullies are still getting away with it.
We need to do more than just express sympathy for victims or bully the bullies with our own condemnation.
We can harness the power of the outrage and empathy that video engendered to take a stand against bullies.
We can give our children the conviction to speak out against bullying and to know that simply not taking part isn’t enough — that alone will do more than all the anti-bullying legislation any government might pass.
We can find and celebrate role models who do speak out.
And we can find the courage within ourselves to tell the bullies we’re watching and that they’re not getting away with it any longer.