Commentary: Bullying shouldn't be the easy excuse for youth violence

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverMarch 6, 2012 

Patriotism, Samuel Johnson said, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Bullying, then, must be the first refuge of teen murderers and their apologists.

Think about it. Nearly every time some misanthropic minor sprays a school with lead, the first thing we hear is that he - and they've all been "he" thus far - was bullied.

To their credit, attorneys for T.J. Lane, the confessed shooter at Chardon High in Ohio, have not invoked the bullying defense. But even before the smoke had cleared in that high school cafeteria, some reporters were spinning a simplistic, sympathetic narrative that Lane had been bullied in school and had possibly reached a murderous breaking point.

Whether he was or wasn't bullied, here's a question for those of you who've already been through the intense state of mind that was high school: Who the heck wasn't?

Unless you were one of the preternaturally perfect few - I'm putting their ranks at less than 1 percent of students - you were the victim of bullying and teasing by classmates. Did you feel the urge to grab a gun and mow down a bunch of them?

Let me re-phrase that: Did you grab a gun and mow down a bunch of them? Many of us may have nursed a grudge and dreamed about going in and wreaking havoc, but we didn't.

Dr. Peter Perault, a Chapel Hill psychiatrist and president of the N.C. Psychoanalytic Society, said that group's foundation implemented a program at Durham's Central Park Elementary School to help students and teachers identify bullies and deal with bullying. "The person doing the bullying," he said, "has usually been bullied."

Perhaps initiatives such as the one by Perault's group can make us more attuned to when a child is suffering - or who wants to make others suffer.

In his book "Is There Life After High School?" - I call it the nerd bible - Ralph Keyes writes about singer Janis Joplin, who, after becoming famous, "never missed an opportunity to strike back at her Port Arthur, Texas, classmates, the ones who had called her 'pig' and threw things at her in the hallways."

Bruce Springsteen's hit song "Glory Days" was about a former high school baseball teammate who was a star and who hung the nickname "Saddie" - short for "Sad" - on the future "Boss."

Writing a song about someone who spends his time hunched over a brew and yearning after high school glory seems like a far better way to exorcise the hurt of high school than killing innocent people.

Of course, it's possible to feel sympathy for young people - old ones, too, for that matter - who view violence as an antidote to their own pain. Few things are more scarring than being subjected to classroom humiliations by peers adept at homing in on your weak spots. At 15, 16, 17 years of age, everything is a weak spot.

Most of our sympathy, though, should go for the families and friends of those five young'uns who were shot by Lane - three of whom will never reach adulthood, will never be able to look back on their own "glory days."

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