Sunday, May 25, 2008

When we agree to disagree

My husband and I disagree.


About a lot of things.

For instance: He likes chocolate-based ice cream flavors while I prefer fruit or coffee-flavored confections.

He can't throw anything away. I can’t stand clutter.

He prefers action adventure. I like witty comedies with lots of dialogue.

He thinks children who make hideous experiments out of food items in the pantry should be made to eat their creations. I think a little time in Time Out and a lot more supervision is a more humane and appropriate consequence.

He also thinks a woman in Missouri, who was indicted on charges in connection with a "cyber bullying" event that ended after a teenage girl committed suicide, should go to jail.

I don't.

It's not that I think Lori Drew — the woman accused on several charges for opening an account on a social networking site under a false name so that her kid could "get back" at a former friend — doesn't deserve to be vilified in the press, or spurned by her neighbors, or considered to be America's Most Immature Mother for the next fifteen minutes or fifteen years for that matter. She definitely earns that disrespect.

It's that I think making Cyber Bullying (or any bullying for that matter) a crime endangers our freedom of speech.

For my husband the argument is personal: He puts himself in the place of the parents. He sees a woman who victimized a teenage girl. Even if she didn't know the girl would hang herself in the aftermath, she is culpable and should be punished by the law. He sees an event that is deeply disturbing, and that, from all media accounts, seems to be burgeoning as more and more people avail themselves of the thin blanket of anonymity the internet provides.

I feel all of those things, too, and yet I also see that such a visceral reaction has caused a rush toward making outright and low-down meanness a crime. I see the disparity of having laws that apply justice arbitrarily. Why have different laws for cyberspace? In the real world, if they had passed fake notes in the classroom would they be in the courtroom?

Cyberspace is not really a different world. Meanness is meanness wherever it is found, whether on the schoolyard or in the boardroom or on a Web page.

I think we all need a few lessons in dealing with jerks that doesn't end up with a phone call to the local precinct. We need our children to be strong enough to ignore; to rise above their petty peers. Not only because bullies will always exist but because if this keeps up, one day freedom of speech may not.

Say your criticism of treatment by a doctor, or shoddy service at a store, or any number of things you have a right to say becomes a criminal matter because the person to whom you are referring claims you made it up intentionally?

Really, this type of legislation could go anywhere and apply to anything.

What about that boy to whom you gave your virginity IN REAL LIFE? He's the one who told you he'd love you forever and who broke up with you the next day. What about him? Some of you are probably wishing he could get his comeuppance, too. Maybe if he broke your heart in an e-mail, you'd get your shot.

To my husband, and many others I imagine, it may seem as if I am defending this monstrous woman who antagonized a child in her skewed understanding of fairness and lack of any semblance of parenting skills. Everyone, it seems, wants an eye for an eye.

I want to teach my kids that jerks are jerks; and nobody — not even a Real Boy who tells you lies or says mean things — is worth your tears. You are better than that. We should all be better than that. We can unplug. We can move on. And we can agree to disagree.

If we could do that we'd surely take most of the power away from the small minded and mean spirited.

Until then we can the bullies of morning news magazines take care of the public shaming. They're already on it.

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