By Keisha Allisse
I wasn't going to write about this. It's over a week old and not how I want to return to my blog after having gone MIA for quite a few months, but after watching Wisconsin news anchor, Jennifer Livingston's umpteenth interview (this one on Ellen today), I had no choice.
I should start by saying that I think bullying is a very serious issue; I was teased as a kid from elementary through junior high and know the pain of being called outside your name and being made to feel small and insignificant. Like many of you, I watched the clip of Ms. Livingston as well as her interviews with national media as she talked about the 'mean' e-mail and its bully of a writer. In the famous e-mail, the writer, since revealed to be Kenneth Krause, writes:
It's unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn't improved for many years. Surely you don't consider yourself a suitable example for this community's young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you'll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
After hearing the letter, I was surprised that it was described as hate mail and angry as I know few letters of that breed that start out with, 'Hi Jennifer.' What was more surprising was Livingston's reply that the e-mail amounted to bullying. When I was being called out by classmates, I WISH I could have instead received an e-mail, which I could have ignored or deleted or responded to with 'kiss my ass' or maybe even printed out and burned and then flushed down the toilet. These choices, while available to Ms. Livingston, aren't available to victims of bullies. What makes bullying so devastating is that its targets are those that are most physically and/or emotionally incapable of handling its effects. A classification which Ms. Livingston, as a local personality with the platform and verbal acumen to respond to a viewer's comments, quite frankly doesn't fall into.
What I'm seeing is someone whose feelings were hurt and who confused unsolicited advice with bullying. She admitted that she's aware of her size and saw no point in Mr. Krause detailing what was obvious. It's not fun to have someone comment on something you're already sensitive about. But why make their words more important than they are by publicizing them? And what person on television doesn't expect to receive all kinds of comments from viewers? Should everything that isn't complimentary be lumped into the same category as bullying?
One of the comments Livingston made in her original on-air response was that 'we should teach our children to be kind not critical,' as though criticism is synonymous with cruelty. The problem here is we are creating a world where the solution is being nice all the time, which isn't appropriate all the time; we're not teaching kids how to express themselves in honest but tactful ways and we're also not giving them the skills necessary to deal with comments they may hear or read that they may not like.
Criticism in and of itself is not the problem; it can be necessary to open the door for improvement and dialogue. Bullying, however, is a serious problem and diluting it to include behavior which can be easily rebutted seems beyond incongruous.