Kevin L. McCrudden
In recent weeks there have been tragic stories in the media about young gay people that have committed suicide. Unfortunately, teen suicide has been on the rise in recent years, not just among gays, but amongst teens in general.
There are a variety of reasons why a teenager may take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Statistically, young white males are the most vulnerable. Teens have feelings of hopelessness and anxiety brought on by social rejection and feelings of being trapped in a life that they don’t fully understand and can’t handle. In many instances, teenagers believe suicide is the only way to solve their problems, as do many adults that commit suicide, which represents approximately 0.01 percent of all mortalities annually.
However, we must also be careful to not connect criminal activity with a label like bullying. The fact that two college students chose to videotape a young man having a sexual experience would be mortifying to any young adult or any adult, just ask Pamela Andersen or Paris Hilton. The intrusion of our privacy and most intimate moments would be horrifying for any adult relationship, never mind an inexperienced young adult and an average person not looking for self promotion or 15 minutes of fame.
Let’s not rush to make decisions on one incident and then focus on a series of tragedies that are indirectly linked. The death of any young adult by suicide is tragic. Let us not focus on the exception, but on the rule. What can we do to minimize teen suicide and teen bullying? Does one have anything to do with the other or is it just a contributing factor?
I would like to introduce the 21st Century Multi Dimensional Hierarchy of Needs, which is the most significant addition or change to Dr. Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” in 60 years.
We as a society and community continue to distance ourselves from some very fundamental realities. We are an animal species and we have tendencies and behaviors just like most other animals on the planet.
As Maslow originally introduced in 1943, human beings must satisfy certain needs before advancing to the next stage of development. Maslow introduced the model as a “one dimensional triangle” where I have introduced the hypothesis of “how can a one dimensional model represent a multi-dimensional human experience?” Therefore, my “21st Century Hierarchy of Needs” addresses the complexity of our human experience by introducing a multi dimensional pyramid that can be as simple as a three-sided pyramid to a much more complex pyramid with seven, eight or nine sides to it, depending upon the complexity of one’s life.
Getting back to the challenge at hand of teenage suicide, Maslow’s original hierarchy accounts for the challenge and need where teens and adults can potentially fail and be subject to suicide.
The stages between Safety, Love and Esteem are complex and where many people have difficulty satisfying the need at these levels.
In the second level of development we address a need for Safety. Safety from what? Everything. Think of other pack animals. They join together so they are not vulnerable to attack. They join together and hunt together so they are not subject to attack themselves. As a society, we have far too many people that still exist at this level. They are afraid to leave their homes because they do not feel safe and in some of the most tragic cases, there are people that fear being home. There are others that live life in fear for a variety of other reasons, such as judgment, scorn, mockery and shame. For those people the need of feeling safe is an ongoing struggle and therefore, anything else in life takes on less importance, because that is a constant striving and yearning for Safety. A fundamental human need.
In the stages above, Safety, Love and Esteem are about a sense of belonging and acceptance whether it be to a family unit or a community, but in both instances, if this need or desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves or being a part of a pack is not met, we fall back to a more fundamental need of safety.
If you are not a part of a larger group and left alone, there is a sense of vulnerability and insecurity. For all people, especially young people, this can be a very unnerving place to be, because you fear being cast aside, alone and not fitting in with any one or any group or pack. This is where bullying and peer pressure begins. As individuals are seen as different than another group, they are shunned or subject to rejection. Most human beings are also afraid of rejection.
People that are bullied, whether it be adults by gangs or whether it be young adults that either look different, act different or are unknown, because they are new in some way are subject to bullying. It is a form of control by the dominant pack. If you want to belong in order to have a sense of safety, in numbers or simply being a part of something there may be a price to pay in order to be a part of the pack.
Almost any adult has been a part of bullying at some point in their lives. Whether it be as a child and being; too fat; too skinny; too tall; too short; too white; too black; too gay; too stupid; too smart; too athletic or not athletic enough, we have all been subject to some teasing or being made fun of for some reason or other. For those that cannot remember a moment in time when you were not picked on for one reason or another then you potentially suffered from being an outsider or loner, which has its own set of issues.
If you were a part of the popular pack or the “in crowd” you no doubt can recall making fun of someone for one of the many reasons, however, you may also remember being judged, picked on or bullied by people even within your own pack (clique) that wanted to make sure you were conforming or not changing, so you could still be considered a part of that pack. Once again, like in the animal kingdom, there is also a pecking order within the pack as well. So, you may fit in, but where? At the top of the pack, or the bottom?
If, by chance, there are people reading this article and cannot remember a time when you were not the center of the social circle or popular clique, like maybe any of the “Housewives of…any particular city,” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, however, there are groups of adults right now that laugh at you and make fun of who you are and what you represent. It is human.
It is a part of our evolution. I question whether we are evolving at all as a species. We, as a species, continue to address the same issues generation-after-generation without creating a solution. Einstein said, “you cannot solve the problems of the day with the same level of thinking that created the problem.”
Therefore, if addressed properly and by people far smarter than I, this can be a time to evolve, a paradigm of how we view each other. In this world of Muslim vs Non-Muslim, Catholic vs Protestant, Jew vs Gentile, and gay vs straight– is there truly a greater good? Is there a way for us all to begin to draw judgments differently? Or are we stuck at this level of Safety and belonging.
If I choose to make the choice to not like President Obama for political differences, will there always be someone that wants to make that assessment or judgment based on the color of his skin? And are they entitled to that? Or do we switch it and demonize being Republican or Democrat to mask the actual issue?
Anyone reading this article has no doubt had to address bullying as a part of our children’s education. And no doubt, there are parents out there regurgitating the old line, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This could potentially be the greatest lie ever told to us by our parents, because as adults, we now know that words are the most powerful and damaging thing we posses. A broken bone heals. The scars created by verbal abuse can last a lifetime.
In this current generation of “helicopter parents” that want to address everything for their children and are even calling employers on behalf of their children to see why they have not gotten hired or not gotten raises, we must ask the question, what is the answer?
Bullying, or teasing as we used to refer to it, is a part of human nature. It is a form of separation whereby groups pick and choose who belongs and doesn’t belong. It is a form of human behavior that enables one group to feel empowered and feel better than another group. It happens on a global scale, as well as a local scale and in our schools. Just listen to parents calling each other names behind each other’s backs and making fun of kids themselves.
If we continue to intervene on behalf of our children at every level, when do they learn to stand up for themselves? What is the solution to end bullying? Do we truly look to government to legislate it? The government had better be prepared to defend its own bullying tactics.
Do we continue to defend our children and get into shouting matches with other parents to address the issue? Or do we empower our children with comebacks or language they can use to defend themselves and antagonize the bullies in defiance?
As adults, we know that bullying happens in a variety of forms all around us and creates an environment of instability. If we truly hope to evolve and become a greater community and society it will depend on all parents communicating with each other and our schools in a non-threatening and non-accusatory manner.
It requires us, as adults, to be evolved. Speak respectfully to each other and make the situation known. The first step in any problem is to address that the problem exists. As was my experience, do not be surprised if your “little angel” is partially to blame for potentially instigating or bringing upon himself or herself some of the bullying or being picked on. Also, do not be shocked to find that some “apples do not fall far from the tree” and there are parents that will protect their children at almost any cost and maybe even share the same kind of bigoted beliefs. Mind you, most children are a product of their environment.
Unfortunately, there may not be a universal solution to bullying. Name calling, teasing and making fun of people is a part of the human experience and in many cases builds strength and character.
The ability to not judge others or “treat people the way you hope to be treated” may take some time on a universal scale. However, as we lead this discussion here in America, let us realize that it starts and ends at home. If we hope to eliminate bullying or judgment of others, we must take responsibility at home and not set the poor example. In this argument of “nature vs nurture,” “nurture” wins, because children are not born to hate, they are taught to hate.
Kevin L. McCrudden is the President of Motivate America and author of the upcoming book series “U”