It’s ok to call someone names if they deserve it.

This one is going around again.  Maybe it’s because it’s the start of a new school year.  Who knows?  Instead of passing it along on Facebook or Twitter, I think I’ll do what I do best: pick it apart.

At first, this looks pretty good.  I mean, it’s absolutely true that people get picked on by people who don’t know them.  But when I look deeper, I see something disturbing about it.  There’s an underlying message that probably wasn’t intended, but is an unfortunate side effect.

It’s not okay to bully people for things that aren’t true, but otherwise it’s fine.

It’s not good to call a virgin a slut, but maybe you can get away with it if she really is sleeping with a bunch of guys.

We shouldn’t assume that pregnancy was the result of consensual sex, but if it was, we can mock her.

If we see the fat girl eating potato chips, it’s a good idea to bully her into eating the way we think she should.

Best not to physically assault someone who is abused at home, but they’re fair game if their home life is stable.

You can call a kid “lame” if you want, as long as you make sure he’s not the sole source of his family’s income.

It’s fine to make fun of people with disfiguring scars, unless they’ve served in the military.

See, we don’t really need to know someone’s story.  We don’t need to know the history of another person in order to treat him or her with dignity.  Respect doesn’t depend on what someone else has or hasn’t done.  The message of this “anti-bullying” picture isn’t one of treating others with honor.  It’s about continuing to judge others—their actions, their motives, their bodies.

I’m also uncomfortable with the “RIP” at the beginning of the message.  While it’s true that sometimes bullied teens take their own lives, two other things are also true:  Not all bullied kids are suicidal and not all suicidal adolescents have been bullied.  It doesn’t address the problem in a healthy way.  Instead of generating concern that leads to finding solutions, it only encourages pity.

There are better ways to address the serious social problems our young people are facing.  We can start by being the kind of people who teach our own kids to hold others in high regard, to respect them regardless of their physical appearance or their personality quirks or what we’ve heard about their behavior.  We can also help our kids recognize signs in their friends that they might need help.  These are not issues that can be resolved by reposting pictures on the Internet.


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