On the heels of the unthinkable cyberbullying case in Florida where 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick lept to her death after nearly a year of psychological assault, an even more horrendous case of cyberbullying surfaced in Plano TX.
Shea Shawhan, and 17-year-old junior at West Senior High School, suffered a severe brain injury at birth, leaving her with a diminished mental capacity and prone to seizures.
Despite her disability, she’s a cheerleader and plays on the softball team. Yet starting about nine months ago, she began receiving vicious text messages from undisclosed phone numbers generated by web applications, even after changing her number.
"Shea should just have one of her f****** seizures and die because people at west don’t want her. That’s the reason she has seizures, because that’s karma for giving birth to a freaky slut.”
“Shea is so annoying but cute I want to do more than just kiss her I want to rape her then kill her. That will finally make sure she goes away for good.”
People of goodwill quickly had her back, including Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. The Dallas Mavericks invited her to be their special guest for a preseason game.
Sadly, special needs children are among the most bullied in any youth gathering [this can include church gatherings], and the late philosopher Henri Nouwen provides one of the deepest answers why. A former professor at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard later worked at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, working with developmentally disabled persons.
During one lecture, Nouwen's main topic was the definition of human. He said anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists provide the following traits: self-awareness, speech and symbolic cognition, and the capacity to imagine, among other traits. These, he noted, were all mind-centered, which academia and popular thinking believe are the centerpiece of what it means to be human.
Then he dropped a moral bombshell, the same one that causes so much psychological and physical assault to souls like Shea: If the mind is primary what makes us human, what about those who are mind deficient? Are they fully human, worthy of respect and possessors of dignity?
Our unofficial and shameful answer, especially within a youth culture where unkindness, meanness and cruelty are perverse forms of currency, is no. We aren’t forthright enough to say this with words–but we do through action, as this and countless other stories reveal.
Shea, to a malevolent minority, is a child of a lesser god, worthy not of respect but contempt, hatred, disdain and assault.
Courage and character have come to Shea’s rescue. Her new Facebook page, I’mWithShea, has more than 83K likes of solidarity. Bystanders have become what we call “Alongside Standers.” Classmates and entire families wear lime-green t-shirts that read, “I’ve Got Shea’s Back.” The assault has ended, reminding us that bullies back down when confronted by positive peer pressure.
But we need more than positive peer pressure. The identity of hard-core bullies [we should consider changing the name to assaulters] needs to be revealed so employers, who pay a high price for hiring such malicious applicants, as do co-workers.
Serial bullies don’t listen to peace, love and understanding. They listen to power and consequences. It’s well past time that communities speak their language: Bully don’t won’t here. Parts of England have done this, and so should America. Universities in Korea deny bullies admittance. Let’s do the same.
My friend Gary has Down Syndrome, and has shown me a side of human possibility, what some call glory, which is hard to spot in the common life. His exuberance is beautiful and clarifying. I wish I had his Carroll Burnett-like comedic timing. He is exceedingly kind and is in an oracle of unvarnished love. He comes from love, and love he breathes to others.
There are no children of a lesser, lower-case god, just a minority of lower-character bullies who assault until confronted. Thank you Plano for showing us how.