Karen Klein–What next?


By now the entire world has heard of Karen Klein and the savage treatment she received from some teenagers.

Ms. Klein was sitting on a school bus fulfilling her responsibilities as a monitor when the students began verbally abusing her. They ridiculed her weight, and suggested that she was alone because her relatives killed themselves. Sadly, she did lose a child to suicide a decade earlier.

The only good that came out of this horrible situation was that in this digital age, a videotape of the occurrence surfaced. The outrage at the student bullies was swift and severe. They have received death threats.

A wellspring of sympathy came for the 68 year old Klein. A website attempted to raise $5,000 to send her on a nice vacation from her busing duties. Within one day, $400,000 had been raised. Now Mrs. Klein has a nice retirement nest egg. Southwest Airlines has offered to fly her and nine friends for free to Disney World.

There are many good people in this world, and the outpouring of affection for a complete stranger has shown the best of the human condition. Yet one question remains.

What do we do about the worst of the human condition? Can we do anything?

When the initial bloodlust wears off, cooler heads will realize that taking the students and physically beating the daylights out of them is not the appropriate solution. Mrs. Klein is refusing to press charges against them, showing significantly more restraint than most people.

Some hard questions need to be asked. Are these kids salvageable? Or is society delaying the inevitable by not locking them up and throwing the key away? Of all the sins that seem beyond redemption, the capacity to engage in unprovoked deliberate cruelty would seem to top the list.

It might even be fun to assume that most childhood bullies grow up to Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot, but the truth is that most people mature over time. Life can be very humbling. The toughest teenager can be knocked down hard long before they turn thirty.

My own experiences came flooding back to me this past February. While sitting with my parents in Florida, an ordinary day saw my jaw drop when a Facebook message left me stunned.

“If I rcvd a friend request from me would say no. I was so mean to you and I am sorry. It sounds like your doing great. Congrats on the book. (name redacted)”

I had not thought about this girl in about 25 years. Yet I needed less than the blink of an eye to remember her as the girl who tortured me in junior high school. I never understood why she did it.

Some people never recover from childhood bullying. The schools cannot stop it. Parents cannot stop it. Students are taught not to fight back, but I finally successfully fought back and put a stop to it.

Yet the only reason I survived in life was because I left the dreary Long Island town I grew up in, landed in Los Angeles, and built a good life for myself. This girl from junior high school stayed in that town.

For a few minutes, I sat staring at my computer. I write for a living, yet getting this response right was much tougher than a normal homework assignment. Pretty soon the answer came, and there would be no edits, rewrites, or agonizing.

“(name redacted),

Of course I remember you. We were kids back then. We’re adults now. None of us are who we were in junior high school.

Thank you for the kind note. What made you contact me after all this time? I am surprised anyone from (town redacted) even remembers me.

eric aka the Tygrrrr Express”

Her response was very telling.

“The reason why I contacted you is because I wanted you to know I was sorry and I was curious what you did with your life. I will never forget our (redacted) incident. HaHa. I would love to read your book. I am going to get it. I always remember my classmates. You were different and very smart. I still will never understand why I was so mean. I am so happy my daughter is not like I was. I am so glad you forgive me. We should keep in touch. Hows California living? I hear its beautiful over there. Ciao for now. (name redacted)”

I responded again.

“(name redacted),

Your email to me shows much decency and character and I respect you for that. Of course I forgive you. We all need to be more forgiving of others, myself included.

I hope life brings you bliss, happiness, and inner peace.

eric aka the Tygrrrr Express”

She thanked me, and that was that. We have not spoken since that one conversation four months ago. There is no animosity. We are just both busy people. I work endless hours, and she has a child to raise. Plus, I am a pretty boring guy with narrow interests. The whole point of Facebook is for people to reach out to others from the past, have a great conversation catching up, and then realize they have little in common and lose touch again until the official reunions.

The fact that this woman at age forty spent even one minute of her existence fretting over some guy she bullied in the 1980s is stunning to me.

Four months later, I can safely say that the woman did not grow up to be a genocidal killer or terrorist. She went from a junior high school bully to a loving wife and mother with a depth many adults do not possess.

This is why the Karen Klein story cannot be wrapped up in a nice little bow. This is why, despite wanting to take her tormentors and rip their tongues out, cooler heads have to prevail.

They should be punished. Yet punishment should be about justice, not vengeance. Destroying the rest of their lives prevents them from possibly contributing to society. They should face suspensions and be forced to walk to school when the suspensions are lifted. They should be forced to speak at other schools about the pain that bullying can cause. Then the slate should be wiped clean after they have served their sentence.

Maybe one day this story will truly have a happy ending when these children truly learn and understand the horror and pain they inflicted.

Besides, if they act out again in the future, at some point it will be toward somebody who fights back. At that point the beating they receive will be more severe, and hopefully videotaped for their friends and enemies to see.


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