It Gets Better – Or Does It?

Three occasions for one to speak falsehood without excuse: to save the life of one who is innocent, to keep the peace among neighbours, and to preserve the Wise and their crafts – a Druid triad

Lucinda Breeding of the Denton Record-Chronicle (better known as Cindy to Denton UUs) has a new column discussing the “It Gets Better” campaign, which attempts to reduce LGBT youth suicides by telling the stories of people who have been through what they’ve been through and come out OK.

Cindy is less than enthusiastic about the campaign. She tells her stories of being bullied and then says this:

But the thing is, it doesn’t get better. Not really. It just gets more adult. The cruelty goes underground a bit. Hostilities take on a complicated life of their own. Yes, you learn to persevere amongst the civilized apes. But those apes still have it in them to throw feces at you.

I’m not gay. But I was bullied in junior high and high school. I was undersized, unathletic, and socially inept. And I made very good grades. That made me a target for the usual suspects. I knew if I tried to fight I’d get my ass kicked and then I’d get in trouble with the school for fighting. So I did my best to stay away from the usual suspects and to avoid calling attention to myself.

Mostly, though, I kept the image of “college” front and center in my mind. I knew – just knew – that if I could survive high school I would go away to college where I could start over in anonymity and where people would be more mature.

College wasn’t OK, but it was better. The business world – another opportunity to start over – wasn’t OK, but it was better. A lot of that is due to something else Cindy says: “People will always be people. And some people just revel in being mean. YOU get better.”

There’s a lot of truth in that. Over the years I’ve developed some social skills. I’ve developed some confidence and learned to think on my feet. Though I’m far from rich, I’ve made enough money to shut up a lot of bullies. English poet and clergyman George Herbert’s words are still true: “living well is the best revenge.”

But I still encounter bullies from time to time. Most of them I can handle now. Some of them I still have to avoid… like the ones who use the law to make themselves feel strong by oppressing others.

Cindy Breeding says “It Gets Better” isn’t enough.

So this “It Gets Better” campaign? It tastes sweet in my mouth, but sours in my gut. It makes me angry. How dare we soothe our own bruised consciences with these half-truths? … I want a video campaign that promises bullies that decent people will demand from them a price. I want school districts to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, like the ones they have against drugs and guns. Most of all, I want adults to stop, once and for all, their excuses for these bullies.

She’s right. We should prosecute people for bullying just as we prosecute people for assault, robbery and murder. But that won’t make it go away – if that worked perfectly we’d have no assaults, robberies or murders. Making bullying socially and legally unacceptable is only part of the solution.

The other part is to give bullied kids some hope, to strengthen their will to survive, to let them know they’re stronger than they think they are, and to let them know that if they can just make it though this school, this grade, this day, things will get better. If “It Gets Better” prevents one suicide, keeps one kid from staying in the closet or withdrawing into a shell, then the half-truth it tells can be excused.

Three occasions for one to speak falsehood without excuse: to save the life of one who is innocent, to keep the peace among neighbours, and to preserve the Wise and their crafts.

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  • Excellent, thoughtful response, John.