We are all fucking assholes

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I am shocked, saddened, and sickened by the recent spate of bullying and harassment of gay youths that has led to so many teen suicides nationwide. It's disturbing that such vicious intolerance still exists in our country, and depressing that with so many positive gay role models today that the message that it gets better still hasn't permeated society far enough.

But I'm also uneasy with this week's rush to label every bully a "total fucking asshole." Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me stress that bullying is wrong. Bullying of any stripe, against anyone of real or imagined difference, is ugly and cruel and harmful and utterly wrong. It seems to me, however, that labeling anyone who expresses an opinion we don't like a "total fucking asshole" is counterproductive in a couple of important ways.

First, though I think it's important for gay kids (for all kids, really) to learn to stand up for themselves, calling a tormentor a "total fucking asshole" is not exactly a way to open up a pathway to understanding and enlightenment. It strikes me only as a way to close off communication and escalate conflict. (Still, I know it would be an awfully satisfying thing to say, and there might be a certain element of empowerment to it. That and a good right hook.)

But second, and more importantly, I think the "total fucking asshole" label is a great way for adults to draw a dividing line between "us" and "them," and to avoid confronting the hard truth that we all have some degree of bully in us. The trick for us all is to recognize and curtail our own bullying tendencies, and to spread that same message in constructive ways.

I'm not making excuses for bullies like the ones who streamed Tyler Clementi's sexual encounter online. Acts like that, whether motivated by hate or not, whether resulting in tragedy or not, should be criminally and civilly prosecuted. But when I read about them, my first thought is always, "Jesus, there but for the grace of God." (And I don't believe in God.)

I'll make a confession here. I've experienced bullying from both sides. I didn't grow up gay, but I grew up skinny and nerdy, and there were times in my life—times I'm deeply ashamed of—when the desire for some power over someone led me to push even weaker kids around. I don't think any of those instances ended in tragedy, but I don't know that for sure. What I do know is, while I don't like to think of myself as a total fucking asshole, I have the capacity to become a fucking asshole. Sometime I am a fucking asshole. When I dismiss someone else as a total fucking asshole, I can't help but worry that I'm excusing the fucking asshole in me.

I don't think there are all that many total fucking assholes in the world. But I think we're all sometimes fucking assholes, and it's only our own awareness of that capacity that keeps us from giving rein to it. And it's only our sum awareness of it that can keep society civil.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/519130.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 10, 2010 1:59 PM.

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