First we had the abusive, hateful kids, then the massive outpouring of kindness and generosity, then the kids’ expression of regret and finally, Greece, N.Y., bus monitor Karen Klein’s statement that she “feels sorry” for the kids who abused her.
All that’s left is for a few words about the necessity of forgiveness and we can all feel good about ourselves and the world in which we live.
Maybe it’s me, but it’s all a bit too tidy, at least if we really are, or ever were, as upset by what happened to the bus monitor as we claimed. Don’t get me wrong, each of those steps is a part of what must happen, but it’s hardly enough.
Yes, the kids need to express regret, but that is only the first step in a longer process, which needs to address the hurt they caused an actual person, not simply the anger we feel about kids behaving so meanly. Let’s see if they can move beyond regret to a clear sense of what they did, why they did it and a plan of how to keep from doing it again.
Let’s see if the bus bullies can move beyond expressions of regret in the abstract to actually seeking forgiveness from the one person they truly harmed and offering a program of deeds which might help repair the damage done. That’s what distinguishes regret, which is about the desire to feel better in one’s own skin, to genuine atonement, which is as the word suggests, is about becoming more at-one with the woman they hurt.
Before we simply praise Klein’s feeling sorry for the kids, let’s be clear that such easy acceptance of the circumstances, is the very trait which failed Klein on the bus. Although no victim needs to justify their actions – they are the victims after all – there is a vast difference between praising the ability to remain calm in the face of cruelty, and praising paralysis in the face of such cruelty.
And before anyone invokes the notion of turning the other cheek, let’s be equally clear about the fact that turning the other cheek is almost certainly about the dignity and efficacy of non-violent resistance, not failing to resist altogether.
Finally, if this story is to have any lasting meaning and our interest in it, to have any meaning beyond the voyeuristic, we have to ask what each of us can do to make such incidents less likely to occur. We can all ask who is bullied or demeaned in our own communities or even families. Who is vulnerable and how can we make them less so?
The Karen Klein story is ending, as it should. The real work however is just beginning, also as it should.
The Karen Klein story is nothing if not a public morality play, and the great poet-theologian of the 20th century, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said it best, when describing the need to address moral failings in society, the theme of all morality plays. He said that we must always know that while only a few may be guilty, all are responsible.
Did Hirschfield get it wrong --or right? Tell On Faith in the comments below or On Twitter, what does the bullying of Karen Klein --and the viral response --say to you about human nature?
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