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Cyberbullying and … second chances?

I was pleased and relieved to see some thoughtful and thought-provoking coverage of bullying, cyberbullying, and teen suicides since I posted on Friday. For example, Newsweek asks an important question: “Bullied to death is the crime of the moment, the blanket explanation slapped on suicide cases from Texas to California… But … is the notion of being bullied to death valid?” Bullying is actually down (see this). To that fact Newsweek adds, “Today’s world of cyberbullying is different, yes – far-reaching, more visually potent, and harder to wash away than comments scrawled on a bathroom wall. All of which can make it harder to combat. But it still happens a third less than traditional bullying…. The reality may be that while the incidence of bullying has remained relatively the same, it’s our reaction to it that’s changed.” In Sunday’s paper, the New York Times looked at the range of charges being considered for Tyler Clementi’s tormenters and cited legal scholars as saying that “finding the toughest possible charges isn’t the way the law is supposed to work,” adding that “the punishment must fit the crime, not the sense of outrage over it.” Outraged adults might consider the risk so many kids who post grievances and prejudices online face: not getting the chance to learn from their mistakes and become better, more forgiving people because of them. As Prof. Sameer Hinduja, codirector of the Cyberbullying Research Center said to Newsweek, most kids deserve second chances. How can we make sure the kids who deserve a second chance get one?

“It might be helpful for us to explore new ways of living in a world that is slow to forgive,” New York Times Magazine writer Jeffrey Rosen suggests. If you read this blog much, you’ll know I mentioned this before (last July), but in this highly charged moment it bears revisiting. Rosen pointed to an ancient practice that now seems utterly relevant: “In the villages described in the Babylonian Talmud … any kind of gossip or tale-bearing about other people – oral or written, true or false, friendly or mean – was considered a terrible sin because small communities have long memories and every word spoken about other people was thought to ascend to the heavenly cloud. (The digital cloud has made this metaphor literal.)… Although the Talmudic sages believed that God reads our thoughts and records them in the book of life, they also believed that God erases the book for those who atone for their sins by asking forgiveness of those they have wronged. In the Talmud, people have an obligation not to remind others of their past misdeeds, on the assumption they may have atoned and grown spiritually from their mistakes.”

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