Heartbroken, and Disbelieving

I watched….or should I say, started to watch a video online today. You may have seen it. It was the 10 minute video of a bunch of kids on a bus harassing and making fun of their bus monitor.

She sat there crying.

They laughed and continued, growing bolder in their language and the types of things they were saying to her, while someone on the bus recorded it. Here it is, but I warn you the language is terrible and it will break your heart.

I was able to watch a couple of minutes until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I had two thoughts.

1. How beaten down by life do you have to be to have a bunch of (what looked like) middle-school kids call you a fat ass (and worse) and you just sit there and take their abuse without even trying to discipline them?

2. How do you watch that level of pain and distress in someone and not have any empathy for them or shame in what you’re doing?

To the first thought, I have some answers. The woman in the video is a widow who also has buried a child….making some of the kids’ comments even more horrific…..so she has known a lot of sorrow. She apparently struggles to make ends meet, another thing the kids made fun of, which we all know can be an incredible stressor. Maybe she kept quiet because she knew if she started yelling she wouldn’t stop, or maybe she was afraid that if she said anything she would end up in trouble, which in this day and age is entirely possible. Either way, her quiet acceptance of their abuse was a terrible thing to witness.

To the second thought, I have no answers. I just don’t understand. When I asked my daughter about whether or not she’d seen this video, she said that she had and that it didn’t surprise her because “kids are awful”.


I think I may be as astounded by her answer as I was about the initial video. I assume it means she has either witnessed or been the recipient of similar bullying, or maybe both. That makes me sad, but I also remember how cruel kids can be from my own childhood. Bullying is nothing new, as many of us probably know all too well, and the cure for bullying is empathy.

So my question, dear reader is this:

Can you teach empathy or is it a quality you are born with? How can we help our kids understand their words have power and that we have the ability to wound others with them?

I would really like to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave a comment and share. The more people who join in the discussion the better.

6 thoughts on “Heartbroken, and Disbelieving

  1. Leslie Green says:

    Kristen, just based on what you’ve written, I know I can’t watch the video. It sounds horrible.

    I have two thoughts…they will appear kind of unrelated, or going in an odd direction, but I’ll attempt to tie them together.

    First, several years ago, I asked my friend if she wanted to go to the movies with me. I don’t recall the movie, but I suppose it was some drama. I do, however, remember her response. Very matter of fact, she said, “Oh, no thanks. I only watch uplifting movies.” And that was that.

    I walked away thinking, Really? But there’s so much meat in dramas. I can feel such a range of emotions when I watch them. Sometimes I cry, and a good cry can feel really good at times. Some dramas are really thought provoking, and I love a good movie that makes me think. How can she only watch one type of movie? How limiting.

    Almost ten years later I went through a serious surgery. And as you know, I called that period of time (from diagnosis and after) My Healing Journey. During that time, I remembered her words, and also ONLY watched uplifting movies. I sought out every opportunity to laugh and to keep things as light as possible.

    I know this isn’t realistic to sustain long term (or maybe it is for some), but for that period of time, I was able to sustain it, and it was wonderful.

    We see so much stuff that we become immune to it. For example, just last week my family and I went to see the new Snow White movie. It was very dark. As I watched it, my thoughts went to this whole notion of uplifting movies vs. this type of movie. I was surprised at how many times I wasn’t actually watching the movie, but rather *observing* the actions on the screen and wondering what, if any, effects it was having on my body and mind.

    That this whole topic, then I apply it to the reason I don’t watch the news. Ever. Reading that NY Times piece I wrote about recently was a pretty big leap for me. (It says a lot about my friend who posted it — had it not been from *her* and the respect I have for opinion, there’s very little chance I would ever read such.)

    Now, does sheltering myself from the Real World help or hinder?

    Personally, it works for me. It’s a conscious decision I’ve made, given lots of thought to, and yes, I’ve confirmed, it works best for me.

    Kind of random, I realize, but thought I’d share why I chose not to watch it and what works for me.


    Not everyone is happy living under their rock. And I don’t actually think it’s healthy for all to do it too, especially if it’s their default mode.

    As for my second thought…. I do whatever possible so my boys don’t become immune to such stuff. We do lots of discussing about feelings, situations they tell me about from school, even stuff that appears benign on TV (there are so many sarcastic comments that are hurtful that just get laughed off by the main characters)…. And especially stuff we read in books. You can really get into some good discussions from book plots.

    Thanks for your post today, Kristen. It’s so good to have these ‘conversations.’

    Love, Leslie

    • Thanks so much for sharing your perspective Leslie. I understand what you mean about shielding yourself from the violent and negative images so prevalent in the news and entertainment. Who knows what kind of havoc the emotions those things stir up is doing to our immune systems…..stress hormones are a bitch.

      The other side of the coin though, is that there are so many real people at the bottom of these news stories who are in pain and needing help and if no one is paying attention how will they get it?

      I guess I’ve always thought that empathy was an innate quality, but maybe a lot of it is modeled and taught instead.

  2. Leslie Green says:

    Oops. Typo…
    Not, “That this whole topic,”
    “TAKE this whole topic….”

  3. E says:

    Oh my goodness, that is too sad . . . And your daughter’s response is almost sadder than the video itself!

    From my own personal experience, I definitely think that empathy can be learned. I spent some time in both Kenya and Liberia and I and all of my white colleagues were harassed pretty much constantly whenever we left the house in rural areas where there were very few white people. Adults participated too, but the kids were the worst. I distinctly remember thinking “This is what happens when you don’t teach kids to be nice to people who are different from them!” I felt like some kind of exotic zoo animal instead of a human being.

    The biggest single thing that seemed to make a difference was exposure. The neighborhood kids, whom I played marbles and board games and did math problems with, definitely saw me more as a person than “the white lady” and treated me differently because of it.

    My point is, I do think that empathy can be taught, but I think the best way to promote empathy is to make kids spend time with people who are different from them. It’s easier to have empathy for someone who reminds you of your brother, or your grandmother, or your friend or neighbor than it is to have empathy for someone who you perceive as completely different and have no connection to.

    Thank you for a thoughtful and interesting post!

  4. Thank YOU for such a thoughtful reply. I totally agree. I guess people are born with some level of innate empathy, but that can be nurtured and grown by wide exposure to all kinds of people. It’s so important.

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