Everyone has been asking what I think about a story this past week about a mom suing a fraternity because her son died as part of a “hazing” incident. Basically, they bound his hands and feet with tie wraps & duct tape and made him drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol. He passed out, of course, and so they dropped him on a sofa to “sleep it off.” They found him dead the next morning. The autopsy showed that his blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit.
So the question asked of me was, “is that a case of bullying?” and I replied, “that’s the wrong question.”
Let me explain. Was it bullying? No. Strictly speaking, for it to be bullying, there must be an “imbalance of power” between the two parties. This precludes it from being called bullying because the boy that died participated voluntarily.
Now, why was it the wrong question? Because what it’s called is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter in the least if it meets this or that specific criteria. It’s wrong, irresponsible, reckless, immature, criminal, abusive, insane, etc., etc., etc. Who cares what it’s called? A boy is dead. The right question is “What is going to be done about it?”
Our society wastes way too much time being hung up on definitions. So much so that people spend an absurd amount of time arguing about whether a situation is “this" or "that.” We need to get our eye back on the ball. Who cares what it’s called? Who cares what flavor of abuse it is? It’s wrong and we need to put a stop to it. We don’t need another law that is tweaked to death to fit a very specific set of circumstances before we can act.
A perfect example of this is the way the current laws around bullying are being modified and tweaked to include a particular flavor of bullying called "cyber-bullying." We don’t need to tweak the current laws. We need to apply the ones we have. We find ourselves in “analysis paralysis” a bit too often these days.
This bothers me, because rather than spending the vast majority of our time stamping out things like hazing, bullying and other forms of abuse, people sit and debate about “does this fit the exact criteria?” before taking action.
“Don’t be silly,” you say. “You can’t stop hazing, it’s been around forever. It’s part of the college experience.” Yes, that’s very similar to what they say about bullying. So what is being done? The fraternity is getting sued by the boy’s Mother. The college “took action” and suspended the fraternity from the campus for five years. Five years? You’re kidding, right?
This is why bullying and hazing and similar forms of abuse continue. Half measures. If that fraternity was removed from the college, forever, for participating in hazing, that college would send a message to the rest of the fraternities on campus as well as all fraternities everywhere. Just don’t. Period. You do, you’re gone. It’s pretty simple.