A little while ago I critiqued the anti-bullying statuses that are often circulated on Facebook. I got a lot of responses to that post and would like to share a little bit more about what I think should be a greater alternative to the proposal that anti-bullying statues make.
I found the above response to a Facebook anti-bullying status on Tumblr. The problem with these statuses is that they create certain ways in which we are allowed to bully people. These statuses suggest that bullying a pregnant teenager is not okay because she might have been raped and that is beyond her control. The problem with defining bullying situations so specifically is that is simultaneously says that is is okay to bully a pregnant teenager for “being a slut” if her own choices got her pregnant in the first place.
One of my favorite writers, John Green, often uses his books and video blogs to encourage people to imagine others complexly. For those who haven’t read John’s books, here is a good explanation of what that means:
“Literature is in the business of helping us to imagine ourselves and others more complexly, of connecting us to the ancient conversation about how to live as a person in a world full of other people… Let me tell you what is, in my opinion, the central problem of human existence: I am stuck in my body, in my consciousness, seeing out of my eyes. I am the only me I ever get to be, and so I am the only person I can imagine endlessly complexly. That’s not the problem, actually. The problem is you. You are so busy taking in your own wondrousness that you can’t be bothered to acknowledge mine.”
Rather than leaning on extreme examples suggested by anti-bullying statues in order to imagine why another person is who they are, we need to attempt imagine people complexly by looking beyond stereotypes whether they be bound by gender, sexual orientation, fashion sense, intelligence, or appearance. Literature and stories are a major tool in fighting the narrow stereotypes and beginning to imagine people complexly.