Friday, June 22, 2012

Is the bus monitor riding an "empathy bubble"?

Forbes Magazine asked the question today. But first let's back up and do some explaining.

A few days ago a gang of middle school-aged students on a Greece, NY public school bus emotionally tortured and verbally abused the 68 year old female bus monitor, Karen Klein. The kids harassed her and uttered unconscionably cruel comments to her and about her, for no other reason than to have a laugh. The scene was video'd on a cell phone and uploaded. The Washington Post reported that the kids' actions were a "feeding frenzy of cruelty."

What happened next is something the kids didn't expect: viral backlash. The video gained millions of views in just a few days and the reaction was bad- against the kids. Horror, shock, outrage at this level senseless cruelty and from some so young, really blew up what Forbes called an "empathy bubble." Donations poured in for the woman. The donors who set up a donation page initially hoped to garner $5,000 so she could be sent on a nice vacation. To date, and the figure rises by the minute, the total is approaching one hundred times the initial goal, it's at half a million dollars.

And that seemed to be the benchmark of where Forbes and the Post and other news outlets called it enough and seemed to want the brakes to be applied to this runaway donation craze. Their attitude is, 'it's great that good things are coming Karen's way, but not TOO good. Let's not go crazy here.'

Forbes said that this kind of reaction "is beginning to exhibit the “irrational exuberance” that drives bubbles in markets (tulip bulbs, tech stocks, etc.)." Washington Post reported, "With an original goal of raising $5,000 to send the victim on a “recovery vacation,” indiegogo.com has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Klein. That’s way beyond any typical vacation and way beyond any proportional response to the hurt Klein suffered. It’s not that her suffering should be minimized, but even if no more money is raised, that would be about tens of thousands of dollars per minute of verbal abuse by a bunch of children. Without, I hope sounding glib, where can I sign up for that deal? What’s going on here?"

I'll answer that is a second. Or rather, Neverseconds...it is a similar story of unwarranted cruelty and international citizen support for the oppressed.
Source
BBC reports, "A school kitchen is to be built in Malawi and named in honour of school dinners blogger Martha Payne. The nine-year-old became an internet sensation after Argyll and Bute Council banned her from posting photos of her school meals on her blog. The ban was later overturned after a storm of protest. She has now raised more than £80,000 for the charity Mary's Meals and recorded more than five million page views on the NeverSeconds blog."

It's the same old story- person goes about their business. Said activity interferes or threatens bureaucratic tyrants. Said tyrants temperamentally close person down. Storm of citizen protest pushes back the tyrants and they retreat to oppress another day. You can read more of Martha's story, at my other blog.

So also thanks to the internet, Martha's quest to raise 7,000 pounds for a kitchen at a Third World School and money to feed them school lunches has exceeded her goal...by almost ten times. Why the "irrational exuberance" toward the blogging project of a 9-year-old kid? What's going on here?

Both stories had bullying at their heart. Who hasn't been harassed at some point, especially in Middle School? Listening to the vile comments reminded me of the tough-as-nails stance you had to take very day just entering the Junior High School building. And who hasn't been the recipient of heavy-handed bureaucratic tyrants squashing a dream?

I believe the exuberance showered on the kid blogger and the bus monitor happened because with all that is dark in the world all that is horrific, we want to demonstrate in some way that we are still human...humane. That we have compassion and care for fellow humans in this world, especially ones we identify with because of their experience of having been bullied. As the world grows more dark and more of the population is bullied more and more, the pendulum will swing crazily the other way.

Watch this 2-min clip from the movie Network. It is all the more amazing is that he said it 36 years ago--it could just as well be said today...


"I'm a human being dammit! My life has value!!"

Does it? Does it?

Jesus has been slowly lifting His hand of blessing upon the world, and revealing to us that indeed, we are sinful creatures. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, (John 15:5) and all our works are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We desperately want to cling to the notion that our basic humanity is good, our works are enough, and that at the bottom of it all, we can unite to make a better world. That we can define that "good," agree on what it is, and stand on it, together. We reach out in sympathy and compassion to the recipients of cruelty, as if to prove to our own selves that we are not base animals but are caring beings.

The impetus for the wildly exuberant responses to these incidents promoted on social media is that they've touched that nerve. As the world becomes more animalistic, the more we want to prove to one and all, as John Merrick, 'The Elephant Man' did, "I am not an animal! I am a human being!"

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