Sunday, October 14, 2012

Could You Save 'Amanda'?

A person would be hard pressed to turn on the television, link to their social media or crack the spine on a good old print rag this week and not be confronted by the name Amanda Todd. If you haven't seen the name or the story here is a summary for you; Amanda Todd was a teenage girl who was tormented to the point at which she saw no escape other than to end her own life. She posted a dramatic You Tube video in which she quite literally spelled her heart out for the world and she shattered a million lives in the day that followed. I say we have been confronted by her name not as an insult to the media attention her story has garnered, but as a descriptive aimed at identifying that thing we all feel inside upon learning of her tragedy.

Response after response, comment, status and conversations in the street are outpourings of apology. We are a country full of people who did not know Amanda Todd but feel a need to atone for the transgressions of her aggressors. There is this ache that if we simply apologize enough, express enough sympathy and condemn the events leading up to her death enough that we have some magic power to make the ending different, that we will erase the heartache of her family, that maybe we could save her. It is some novel disconnect here in which our brains tell us this story is real but our hearts refuse to accept that reality as final. Is it because none of us knew Amanda personally, is it because we did not see her cry and struggle and fight back, lose hope and give up. Or is it something darker? Is it the knowledge that had Amanda's story gone viral, without the tragic ending of her life all those notes of condolence would be words of opinion and judgement? Is what we are confronted with when we read Amanda's name or see her picture guilt? If it isn't, it should be.

Ironically, or not, because I think this same story could repeat itself on any given day in any given community in North America. I wrote a piece for Best Tools just a day before Amanda's story broke in which I ask parents to look in the mirror at their behaviour. It seems timely now but incredibly watered down. It will be posted to the site next week and I am good with it because the URL does not bear my name, is not my brand and I would not wish to jeopardize it's brand with my raw outrage.

But this space is a different story...

In this space I want to say that if you are truly sorry for Amanda's heartbreaking story, if you are disgusted by her tormentors and weeping for her family...instead of closing the gate after the animals have this...

Get off your self-righteous high horse and look at yourself, look at your behaviour, replay the conversations you have where you trash people who are not in the room, talk about people unable to defend themselves, pass judgement on  people you do not know and turn a blind eye to those around you doing the same thing.

Stop posting comments like...

"I need a new gym where the people are not homely"

"This girl is f'd up, get a life and a new shirt cause you look like a skank"

"Comment for TBH"

People, even the ones you consider not up to your standard have feelings just like you; they have stories that you don't care enough to ask about. That girl who is f'd up is just like you only maybe she is not as nasty. What makes you so important that others should seek out your honest opinion about them... what people think are 'honest' comments are the things that drive people to despair.

Back in the old days we had a saying drilled into us by our parents and grandparents "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." it was a really good rule of thumb, it kept people from hurting one another, it made you pause and reflect before you opened your mouth. It asked you to think about what the reaction to your verbal noise might be. It kept people from treading water in a constant stream of condemnation, opinion and self-consciousness. It prevented a great amount of mob mentality towards a person who may be struggling with poor choices, unfortunate events and struggles dumped onto their life laps that they did not ask for.

That simple rule seems to have been lost with the art of face to face conversation. People have become so accustom to saying what they think in an arena where there seems to be no audience that when faced with the real world we can hardly contain our thoughts, bite our tongues, and keep our opinions to ourselves. And what of that world on the other side of the screen? There are real live people out there reading the words you write, taking them personally, taking them to heart, and here is the kicker... the person you are aiming your comments at, they are probably listening. So are a thousand other people who, by the very nature of the human psyche, take those words and twist them until they can match them to their own circumstances. It has become easy to think outside of our minds where we used to have conversations with ourselves in which we solved a great many issues without taking them into the public arena. Perhaps we need a rule for social posting. How about... "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

While we are at it how about adding this "My life is the one I need to worry about, I will not involve myself in the life of others unless it is to build them up, improve their happiness or help them reach their dreams."

In my personal life I am not immune to transgressions, my children are not perfect. We struggle with these rules just like the rest of society. We slip into conversations that are probably none of our business and pass opinions that are better kept private. We say things we regret and listen to things we should speak out to halt. I cannot even begin to suggest that we are getting things right, living above the line and treating the world at every turn the way we wish to be treated.

But I can say we are trying, that we are reminding each other every day when we falter and pushing each other as people to live more compassionately and I can say it is hard work. We slip and transgress and we make mistakes and we call each other out when we fail.

Amanda Todd....

If you are devastated by this young girl's story, if you are yearning in your heart that your condolences and sympathies might have some magical power to change her end, then you need to do more than post R.I.P. in response to her story because it is the buzz this week. You need to take that yearning into your everyday life from this day and into all the days that follow. You need to use it to keep yourself in check and hold others up to the same standard of human decency.

How many more Amandas do we need to lose before we change our ways. That was not a question.

It is difficult to find the gratitude in this story, in this tragic loss but I suppose if there is one to be found it is in the lives that Amanda's story will change and the lives Amanda's story will save because her story has forced another to do a little introspection.

To truly honor Amanda's life do a little to change your own.

Gratitude, Hope & Smiles are meant to be something to make things different.