The incident surrounding Karen Klein last week introduced behaviors so appalling that the idea of forgiveness -- or rather, repentence -- seems out of reach for those to blame. Klein, a 68-year-old bus monitor from Greece, N.Y., was brought to tears by the bullying of four 13-year-olds. To say that the video of the teasing and taunting she endured was met with outrage is an understatement. Viewer responses spanned a gamut of emotions, from verbal exclamations to the establishment of a retirement fund that has gathered over $645,000 to date, but a singular question threads together each and every one: how could anyone -- much less four children -- do this?
A Tale of Two Wolves
This question makes us think of the Native American parable that Ashoka Fellow Eric Dawson likes to tell when he introduces his work, telling the story of a young boy, distraught over injustice, who turns to his Grandfather for advice. Filled with empathy for the young boy's struggle, the Grandfather admits how even he feels as if there are two wolves living inside of him. While one is peaceful and good, it is struggling for control against the other that is angry and violent. "Which wolf will win?" the little boy wants to know. His grandfather's answer is all too simple: "My son, whichever wolf I feed."
Dawson is the founder of PeaceFirst, an organization that impresses upon children the importance of conflict resolution and civic engagement. Put simply, it frames children as peace--rather than trouble--makers. Of the 40,000 students it has worked with since its inception in 1992, 81% of students speak of an ability to walk away from a fight. These testimonies are echoed by the positive changes in conflict resolution skills seen by 90% of educators in Peace First schools. In no uncertain terms, PeaceFirst and similar organizations are spurring children to feed their inner good wolf.
Bad Wolf Rising
And it was this very ability that was missing on the bus that day. Logic tells us that there were people on the bus other than those captured on camera, yet no happy ending of some brave child's defense of Klein plays itself on film. That's because no one defended her.
In this way, the faults preventing a child's defense of Klein are the same as those leading to her treatment in the first place. We're not instilling children with the ability to feed their good wolf, much less feeding it ourselves. In fact, looking at the prevalence of bullying in recent years, the gratuitous violence of our video games and films, and even our hostile political rhetoric, it takes little time whatsoever to realize that we're feeding angry wolves all around us.
Why the Status Quo Won't Do
Before we all get carried away either demanding the punishment of those four boys or writing off their behavior as the misguided efforts of kids too young to know better, the tale of two wolves impels us to recognize that assigning blame is not quite that simple. We are all to blame. If we don't recognize our collective responsibility for the insults that drove Karen Klein to tears that day, we're back to the status quo until the next incident surfaces. And while it isn't every day that the victims of bullying takes have the face of a grandmother, bullying has a new victim every day nonetheless.
Long after this news story becomes stale with dust, our wolves still be battling. By prioritizing peacemaking in schools like Dawson does, we're fostering empathy within our children. We're clearing a path for a 13-year-old down the road to stick up for a bus-ride victim of bullying, whether they're 68 or 16.
So, instead of asking "how anyone could do such a thing," a new question emerges as the most important: which wolf would you like to see fed?