I just finished watching 13 Reasons Why. If you are unfamiliar, it is a fictional story of a high school sophomore’s suicide and the events that led up to it over the course of a few months. If you are unfamiliar, you should really watch it. It should be required viewing for all Americans. It’s that important.
The 13-episode show didn’t just deal with suicide, it dealt with myriad issues affecting teens. It dealt with all the typical teenage angst and all the social awkwardness. It discussed the elevated status of athletes and the denigration of the smart kids and the geeks, stories to which pretty much anyone alive can relate. It especially addressed how technology and social media play prominent roles in the lives of teens today and how parents may miss clues or tend to minimize that role because they did not share that experience and have no frame of reference. It dealt with the ever-growing crisis of rape that has seeped down from college campuses to high school campuses to be far more prevalent than any parent wants to believe. It dealt with parties while parents are out of town, helicopter parenting, and absentee parents. It even revealed how having a drug-addicted parent isolated one kid, how drinking and lies led to the death of another kid, and how all of this is going on right under the noses of well-intentioned educators and responsible parents. It’s an old story, and a new one. It’s one that is long overdue in being told. We need to talk about this stuff if we ever hope to prevent any of the needless tragedies that result. Secrets are indeed deadly.
I have a feeling this will not be my last blog post inspired by this show. For now, I’m going to focus on the one aspect of it that seems to hover over all the others like the brown cloud of pollution over Denver on a sunny day: unresponsiveness.
Why do you sometimes fail to act or speak up? Is it because it’s not polite? Because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Because your mama said if you don’t have anything good to say you shouldn’t say anything at all? Because it’s not socially acceptable? Because it’s just not done?
What if being polite or socially appropriate or politically correct is code for being scared? What if the real reason that people won’t speak up is because they are afraid? Afraid of being a target themselves. Afraid of disapproval. Afraid of losing status or a job or a friend. What if the reason we let our fellow students and our co-workers and our sisters and brothers face these horrible situations alone is because we are all just choosing to save our own hides or avoid any personal inconvenience? What if we are all just too self-absorbed to do the right thing for someone else? What if we are all just covering our own asses? What if we are all just chicken shit?
I get it. I understand. People can be hurt. Someone could be publicly humiliated. Jobs can be lost. Powerful people could be offended and we all know what happens when the powerful people are offended. There will be hell to pay. Women don’t report rapes because men will deny it and men will be believed over women. Girls don’t report harassment or rape because they will be slut shamed. They already have to face their rapist or abuser every day – why the hell would they want to make that worse? After all, who will back these folks up if they report these things? What friend will stand with them and validate them? Who among us will stand up? Most of us will just cover our own asses and silently wish them well, as if our well-wishes or intentions could ever be enough.
I know because I’ve been there. When you rise to defend yourself, there is rarely anyone around. The fastest way to lose friends is to open your mouth. I know exactly what it feels like to be alone with the sharks circling. I know what it is for everyone around you to be unresponsive. I hope none of you ever know.
Watch the damn show. Then we’ll talk.