bruce_woodRecently, the campus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick was stunned by the suicide of a student whose sexual exploits in his dorm room with another man were secretly taped and then publically broadcast across the internet for anyone in the world to see. About the only thing in that last statement I made that is really absurd, is that people were stunned by this young man, only 18, taking his life. Should we really find ourselves being surprised when in the midst of what could only be described as an act of evil a person is driven to the point of hopelessness?

Welcome to the real world, ladies and gentlemen. When we head off to college we are given the impression that this is somehow, “the ‘real world’ – lite.” We are given the impression that the, “college experience” is an enclosed bubble of life that somehow does not matter in the grand scheme, and that all the infractions or sins that pile up at our feet are somehow not real, or not counted, or brushed off by saying, “it was only college.”

This young man’s death is a reminder that the opposite is true. Our society has long immortalized the antics of college students as harmless or, “in good fun” but there are real lives being destroyed and real people being hurt. What is described by some in the media as a, “cruel practical joke” is, in actuality, an act of evil which has now resulted in a young life being snuffed out before it even had a chance.

I’m sorry, but come on people, WAKE UP! We sit around having discussions about whether or not we should create laws against cyber-bullying, and we sit around tossing about the legal fate of the two lost souls who perpetrated this act, but we don’t sit down and look at the long-term ramifications of all of this. How many more people are going to die before we take a serious look at how we justify adolescence and early adulthood as a “no consequences” zone that we have the mandate to do whatever we want and somehow it will all be forgotten once we have diploma in hand?

You can debate your new laws and your legal punishments all you want, I would rather do the more important job of standing up and shouting back against the swell of noise that tries to convince us as young people that hating (and if you think this is too harsh a word, check that it really isn’t just convicting you of practicing it) or practicing hateful acts is, “all in good fun.” Bullying is too mundane a word, too neutered by pop culture to apply to this. Only hate in one’s heart could motivate a person to tape another’s sexual acts and then broadcast them on the internet. I don’t care if they are homosexual acts or heterosexual acts, it is never, “in good fun” to invade another’s life and make a mockery of it.

If I seem a little impassioned about this subject it is because I am tired of seeing lives ended and people succumb to hopelessness when we can do something about it. I was once myself in a place where I could have ended my life. I have no shame in admitting that I needed help and I needed to get out of the dark place in my life I had spiraled into during my teen years. Many never realized this about me, and while I am often not always comfortable speaking about it, I think that if there was ever a time for those of us who have been through the darkness to stand together, it is now.

We are at a crossroads in our culture. We have set up frameworks in our society that make being young like an immunity deal against bad behavior. While I cannot and should not demand perfection of everyone (it is impossible, God makes that perfectly clear) it is not unrealistic for us to start to demand more from our young people. We must demand responsibility, respectability, honor, the things our parents and our grandparents before them valued. We have to demand that they take life seriously.

This man was 18. Eighteen. Let that word roll around in your mind. Think about how the normal life expectancy of a man or woman is almost seventy. 70. Let that number roll around in your mind. This man could have been fantastic. But all fifty two years he may have had left are gone now. They are gone because he was sick. He was sick in his heart and in his mind. He was reaching out, calling out to anyone to make him feel relevant, purposeful, accepted. And what did our culture offer back? Shame that was, “all in good fun.”

If, in the end, we continue to let voices like Tyler Clementi’s go silent, the joke is on us.

Let’s turn our hearts today.

If anyone is struggling with suicide, or thoughts of hopelessness, you are not alone. Join the thousands of us who struggle, who survive, and who carry on at, www.afsp.org (The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – an organization for survivors of suicide, the families who have lost loved ones, and for those who struggle to live – to reach out and take the hands of those who are ready to be there.)