You’ve probably seen this video of Karen Klein, the school bus monitor being teased and insulted past the point of human endurance by a bunch of middle schoolers in upstate New York. Like me, you probably felt a little nauseous watching the thing. You probably also wanted to see the bullies punished in ways even the Taliban might consider inhumane:
Since the video became to talk of the nation, well-wishers have donated over a half-million dollars to a fund for Karen Klein, officials of the Greece Central School District are talking about disciplinary measures, and two of the four kids have apologized, though not in person. Apparently these faux badasses who could spend ten minutes vomiting filth at an elderly woman lack the stones to look her in the face and say they’re sorry. Why am I not surprised?
They certainly are a sorry bunch, and since Karen Klein seems to be taking her unwilling media celebrity with plenty of poise, I find myself imagining how the parents must feel. Sure, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that, but any parent knows there are moments when one’s child can do something horrifyingly out of character. And I’ve seen other children who behaved like disgusting creeps at a young age but matured into apparently decent and interesting young people.
What would I say to one of my kids in this situation? I would want to say something like this:
You picked on an old lady and made her cry. You looked at a woman old enough to be your grandmother, a woman with tragedy in her past, and the only thing you could think to do was make her life as shitty as possible. I spent years raising you, taking care of you, wrapping you in love and good things, trying to show you the best in the world, and this is what you did with it. I look at that video and hear the cruelty in those voices and I don’t recognize the child I raised. I wonder who you really are. I wonder if I really want to know.
Are you proud of all this?
The woman has said she doesn’t believe the apologies she’s heard, and I don’t blame her. She heard the vile way you talk when you think you can get away with it. Now, when you’re out in the open and everyone is watching, you say nice things and offer an apology. It’s nothing but a lot of words. I wouldn’t believe them, either.
The bad news is that nothing you say will redeem yourself in her eyes. There is some good news, though. Not much, but enough for us to work with. And you need to work on this.
You can get better. You don’t have to be a smirking creep your whole life. Learn good things, and do them. Improve yourself. Next time, instead of joining in with the weasels, you be the one who tells them to stop. Watch that video and memorize it. Whenever you find yourself sounding like that again, stop and go the other way. And while you’re learning to do this, I’ll be asking myself some hard questions, too. Did I do anything, model some kind of behavior, that made you think this was an acceptable way to act? But you’re old enough to bear responsibility for the things you do and the things you become. If you’re going to be any kind of man at all, you have to do better than this.
You may never again have that woman’s respect, but if you do things right, you may eventually deserve that respect.