Suffering with Suicide & Cyberbullying – Why Perfectionism is not so Perfect

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Suffering is a torment that we as human beings are subject to throughout our lives.  The media certainly plays a part in feeding off our suffering.  From a young age women and men are told to behave a certain way, look a certain way and react a certain way.  From this normalization of the individual, ideas start to develop.  Mannerisms and thought processes start to cement. All the while we are often comparing ourselves to the mainstream image provided to us through the media; whether it to be more attractive, wealthier or more powerful.  This bricolage of how ‘one should be’ is constantly reinforced through the media which leads to suffering and persecution.  This post will focus on how three influential writers Miller, Lynch and Lewis conceptualise suffering and how to recontextualise this to an audience that is saturated with an inconsistent idea of perfection as seen through mass media.

Social networking sites and ease of communication through the media has made an impact in lives of students; sometimes negatively.  The abuse and bullying seen throughout high schools in the western world is shocking.  This is an example of just one of the many of cyberbullying issues that students have to contend with:

Ryan Halligan: Poughkeepsie, New York

An autistic thirteen year old that’s sweet as can be just trying to make it through the days became a prime target of cyberbullying. Going through his days, and like any boy, he had that one crush. This girl that he had his eye on, had stuck up for him for a while but soon became the main bully. She pretended to like him and then made fun of him and said, she would never like a guy like him. As his pain got worse, he had a pen pal that was encouraging him to end his life. Ryan became so hurt, the he hung himself. All because of cyber-bullies.[1] Source

In Miller’s book he discusses how a father responded to his son’s suicide “the awful realities which eventually tormented the son into suicide found their first hiding place in the father’s own failure to face them; he could not have known that in giving his heart to his son, he was passing on to him the very realities which he himself had so deeply repressed as to be wholly unaware of them.”[2]  Further on in the book Miller seeks to deconstruct this act and theorises that the father realises he has lived his life wrongly.  In the Ignation tradition and practicing the Exercises one’s confusion comes before clarity.  These two innocent lives have been bombarded by the unrelenting idea the they are not good enough.  The Western school system does not allow enough for time of reflection so the student can go from confusion to simpleness.  Involving these practices of simple prayer, meditation, reflection before each class and a set time during the school week would help to strengthen students ability to react with the real person and how it might feel to be the victim behind the computer screen.

This media centred environment can be attributed to a search for something more, an escape from the daily hum drum of the student’s life.  How is faith seen in these dark and tumultuous times for teenagers that bully or partake in bullying?  There is a sense of searching for something with these students.  Certainly Lewis describes a sense of loss but then a sense of knowing that God is always there and states “Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems non-existent.  But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?”[3]  As humans we are always searching for the divine for that moment of enlightenment when all seems well.  In the cacophony of human emotions these teenagers are feeling, the divine is being sought through many differing dimensions.  Sometimes a student may have a faith filled background which supports their search for the divine, another student may find the divine filled with their obsession for Twilight characters, or a student may find the divine in the other person that they are dating.  Tillich discusses the divine and states “the anxiety about not being a success is an idolatrous form of the anxiety about divine condemnation.”[4]  The juxtaposition of today is that adolescents and young adults are bombarded with images of the ‘ideal life’ of money, fame and power.  These are tools that can be used to enhance the spirituality of a person by lifting them up, or they can be tools that denigrate a person by bullying another due to jealously or various other sins.

Finally it is sometimes through our hopelessness that we can find clarity.  The choices that these individuals make to commit suicide impact more than just the individual.  Lynch discusses the impact of these feelings by stating “hopelessness does not imagine that there is a possibility of help, whether on this or the other side of the horizon.  Hopelessness decides that – even if there were interior resources and even if help were available – there is no use, no good, no sense in action or in life.”[5]  The father was impacted with the realisation of his son and then his own actions.  The other boy who was cyber bullied acted in response to the stimuli given to try to achieve the divine.  Students are put in hopelessness situations due to the saturation of cyber bullying.  I believe that this is a situation that can be combated with schools enhancing their curriculum by incorporating spirituality into the mix.  In this way students will learn how it is to be the person behind the computer screen.

[1] “Real Life Examples of Cyber-bullying – Cease Cyber-bullying.” Real Life Examples of Cyber-bullying – Cease Cyber-bullying. N.p., n.d. Tue. 24 Feb. 2014.

[2] Miller, Jerome A. The Way of Suffering: A Geography of Crisis. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 1988. Print.

[3] Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.

[4] Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. New York: HarperOne, 2009. Print.

[5] Lynch, William F. Images of Hope. London: University of Notre Dame, 1974. Print.

 

 

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Author: Danyelle Kelly

I'm an Australian, studying and living in the US who wants to enhance community and relations throughout the world.

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