Who teaches us to be kind? A bizarre example chuckled her way through the Canadian media this week in the case of Karen Klein.
Ms. Klein is the 68-year-old former school bus monitor from a Rochester suburb who, in a darker time, was bullied by boys she was trying to supervise. In June, four Grade 7 boys pointed a cellphone camera at Ms. Klein, recorded the obscenities and threats they hurled at her, and posted the video online.
Max Sidorov, a 25-year-old Toronto nutritionist, watched the video and thought he should do something kind. He launched an online campaign with a goal of $5,000 that delivered $703,833 to an astonished Ms. Klein. In Toronto this week, she received the cheque. It was an absolute delight to watch.
Full disclosure: I also saw the video but didn’t donate money. Instead, I asked two producers from our charity’s youth program, Love Is Moving, to learn from Ms. Klein and Mr. Sidorov. Over the summer, they became great friends and, together, launched 7 Million Acts of Love, another Internet campaign. Ms. Klein picked up her cheque in our office, so, yes, I’m deep in the waters of the backstory. All of it has caused me to wonder whether we’re asking the right questions about how to stop bullying.
Canadian activism increased in the wake of deaths clearly attributed to bullying. School behaviour programs and a federal government committee followed, and Ontario passed Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. Ironically, as the Toronto Star reported this week, some Muslim parents are describing Bill 13 as “a punch in the face” because they feel their diversity isn’t being respected. Some Christian and Jewish parents are also objecting to Bill 13, saying their faith convictions appear to disqualify them from the equitable treatment the act was designed to foster.
What we need is not more rules on behaviour but an emphasis on relationships, including our connections to faith communities. Every anti-bullying program has expunged religious elements in the name of equality. We neutralize rather than look for spiritual capital that gives solutions to problems rooted in the human heart. A better approach would be to question whether faith is living up to its teachings. Islamic hadith echo Christian and Jewish scriptures that contain a basic anti-bullying message: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.”
World peace was shaken this week because religiously motivated people were far from those sentiments. The longer we ignore investigating religious truth, the more we’ll be confined to the ethics of “I will tolerate you” or “We have rules to follow.” Transparent religious exploration offers the possibility of robust applications of how to love despite differences.
Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander, has engaged bullying on a global scale. A former Franciscan nun, she told Context TV: “Basically, Jesus’s message was the antidote to hating, hoarding and harming. It was to care deeply about one another, share generously and help willingly. The more we can walk and talk that every day, the less likely we are to make the smaller circle of caring. The more likely we are to be more inclusive, and the less likely it is that our kids will swim in that culture of mean.”
I’m glad Karen Klein and Max Sidorov taught us to be kind, but viral Internet charity is too rare. It’ll never replace the common currency of religious values that need to be rediscovered.
Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.