“It gets better”: What does?

The national media’s attention is currently on the plight of young gay men who choose to commit suicide, and the social forces that encourage that decision. One of the recurrent themes in this media attention is that we need to communicate that “it gets better.”

It’s easy to assume that there’s some moment, upon graduation from high school or college, that the bullies go away, or that the problems of life are solved, or that the world becomes tolerant and understanding.

In reality, for many people, the bullies of high school are replaced by bullies in the workplace. Inanely, we’re still struggling in a national conversation about whether anatomy matters in marriage and whether soldiers can be openly gay and still serve. If you’re overweight, if you’re “unattractive,” if you have physical, mental, or psychological limitations, if you’re not Christian, if you’re not white, if you’re different from the mainstream expectations in any pronounced way, it can be difficult to see how things are much better as an adult. Life continues to have great obstacles, and “it gets better” can feel like an empty promise.

It is true, I think, that the meanness and cruelty of adolescence is more savage and more immediate than most of the meanness we experience later in life. Most of the bullies I have experienced since leaving an academic setting have been working alone. It’s also easier to choose to avoid such settings, although workplace bullies are about as unavoidable as school-based bullies.

What should get better, and sometimes actually does, is that the other people who are suffering and have suffered are comfortable about being more open about it. We are more willing to offer support against the bullying and the harassment. If nothing else, it becomes easier to find people who are supportive. Often times, what it takes to get through a dark period is a friendly voice or a shoulder.

It gets better because some people mature. It’s naive to think or imply that everyone gets better, because not everyone does. Some people, sadly, get worse. It’s also naive to think that you can get whatever you want just by wishing or trying hard enough, and that includes getting away from harassment forever. Not every victim of bullying is going to have the combination of talent and luck that, for instance, Ben Folds has had.

But what you can do is learn how to deal with your frustrations in the face of a world that is often very cold and unfair. You can find other people who have gone through similar events to give you support. If you’re one who has suffered and gotten through it, you can use your experiences to help light the way for those who are seeking help.

You can get better, better about dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. Perhaps the world may not ever become a perfect place, but it can become a better one.

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