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Why it gets better

When the 'It Gets Better' project began, I, like many others, thought it was a beautiful idea and watched many of the videos. But it wasn't really for me: I'm not gay, and so couldn't say much about the experience of growing up gay.

But in recent days, the videos have started saying more about general bullying. And that's something I know a lot more about. Watching them, I thought there was a bit more to say about why things get better (I like structural explanations in politics, and I like structural explanations in personal happiness), and I also thought that there was no way I wanted to make the admissions necessary to do one of these videos. Which seemed like a good reason to do one.

The basic point of the video is that the reason things get better isn't a mystery and it isn't luck. You're not just waiting for a better hand of cards. Things get better because you get agency: You go from not being able to choose your family, city, school or classmates -- and thus not being able to choose the type of people who are judging you -- to having at least some control over all those elements. Things get better, in other words, because you suddenly have a lot more power to make them better.

By Ezra Klein  | October 25, 2010; 12:32 PM ET
 
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Comments

"Things get better, in other words, because you suddenly have a lot more power to make them better."

You mean to say because you get 'freedom to choose'?

Is it that which our brothers and sisters in Tea Party are fighting for? (You see power speaks - now that Nov 2 is next week, these same misguided Tea Party bigots are brothers and sisters now....)

Posted by: umesh409 | October 25, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Thanos and the Infinity Gems? I can understand the pummeling . . .

Kidding, Ezra. Wonderfully done. Thanks.

Posted by: Hieronymous | October 25, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Good video. Very true.

I was the same during school. I agree. It gets MUCH better. :-)

Sidenote: Thanos and the Infity Gems!!!

I've got the Thanos mini-series somewhere in the closet. Got to dig them out now and re-read! :-D

Posted by: JERiv | October 25, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Way to step up with this. It may help some kids who are in the situation you were, helps us readers get to know you a little better (police and changing schools?! really?!), and also a nice little F U to the people who gave you problems...wonder if they're doing anything with their lives. Some are probably still losers, while others who bullied may have done a total 180. I know I did just a little bullying, for which I'm very regretful for, and I have no idea why I fell into such a lame role at the time. Adolescent social structures produce warped behavioral outcomes for those bullied, and even for some of the bullies (some are just inexcusable jerks though.)

Posted by: michaelh81 | October 25, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Nice video, Ezra. Insightful. Brief suggestion -- pull your tie up or unbutton your top button. You look like a kid.

Posted by: AZProgressive | October 25, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

This is the first video I've seen of Ezra, since I'd rather take a whipping than watch Rachel Maddow.

We should all, as individuals and as a society, strive to avoid the abuse of power, and fight against those who seek to impose their will upon us.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 25, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Right on.

Posted by: granitestate1 | October 25, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

It can be hard to imagine how anything can change when you haven't had the experience of effecting change.

As a wheelchair user I sat at my career guidance interview listening to my father and the counselor agree that office work would be an appropriate career path.

It took five years of failing accountancy exams and office drugery before I summoned the energy to say this isn't for me.

Forty years later, I have neen a teacher, a businessman, and crossed continents. Life hasn't always been easy, but it's been a lot more interesting, and a lot more fun. It just took a while to escape the sincere;y meant cautions of others.

Posted by: eric_eales | October 25, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

What a wonderful thing to do, Ezra! Kudos.

I'm sure you'll help someone out there by telling your story.

Posted by: tylerstone | October 25, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Great video, Ezra. I can really relate. High school wasn't miserable for me because people mostly left me alone, but that also meant leaving me out. I'm about your age and I'm enjoying this part of my life, with a job I chose, an apartment I pay for and friends who share my passions so much more.

Posted by: amy130 | October 25, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for doing this, Ezra. While my heart breaks for the young LGBT kids who are prime targets for bullying, many other kids are also targets - the smart kids, the small kids, the kids who march their own drummers and they need to hear this message, too. Really, the whole issue of bullying needs to be better addressed - it's just wrong no matter what.

Posted by: mbquiltz | October 25, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Sadly, there is another reason it often "gets better" for adults. We tolerate a lot of behavior towards children that we would not tolerate if it were directed at adults. Some of what is called "bullying" is harassment and even assault. If those things happened in a workplace environment, somebody would definitely get fired, and maybe even arrested, while kids mostly have to just take it because in our society, they just don't count very much.

Posted by: ciocia1 | October 25, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

:-)

Posted by: jkaren | October 25, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I've noticed that a lot of people commenting on this hasten to assure us that they themselves are not gay. The President: I don't know what it's like to be bullied for being gay.... Klein: "...I have a girlfriend..." It's true that adult behavior is under stricter regulation than children's behavior -- because they are adults! Kids are not thrown in jail, either. The vile behavior of some children is still thought to be something their parents should handle, and bad children thought to reflect badly on their parents. Is that something we would want to "reform" so that the state steps in here?

Posted by: truck1 | October 26, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

"I've noticed that a lot of people commenting on this hasten to assure us that they themselves are not gay."


that seems to me, to be the appropriate and sensitive thing to do.
i think this project was directed toward the gay community.
if anyone is adding their own story, and has not walked in those shoes, i think it is appropriate to acknowledge that, before sharing recollections, or possibly offering "advice."
bullying of young children is one of the cruelest and most merciless things to live through. every incident is like a knife, going through the child.
but each child who has lived through that experience, was stigmatized for something different. and why that happened...is an important part of their own story, which can take the rest of their life to come to terms with.

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

"The vile behavior of some children is still thought to be something their parents should handle, and bad children thought to reflect badly on their parents. Is that something we would want to "reform" so that the state steps in here?"


what do you mean, by the state stepping in?
if children are abused, and parents are part of the bullying that is happening, dont you think someone needs to be informed that has some agency to stop the suffering of the child?
if teachers and principals turn a blind eye to the situation, dont you think some part of the "state," has to step in?
if a child's sanity and safety is threatened by bullying, if a child cannot cope with the bullying, and starts to see suicide as the only form of escape, and nothing is done about it, dont you think the police need to be called, to step in?
if no-one is helping a child, and the bullying is destroying their life, isnt it society's responsibility to help?
if our society doesnt step in to protect our children, what does that say about our humanity, about what matters most to us?
dont you think that if a child is being injured to the point of not wanting to live anymore, especially by other children, or by their parents, society has a responsibility to help them and give them a voice, to save their lives and dignity, from helplessness and stifled despair?

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

No,assuring us they are not gay is not the appropriate and sensitive thing to do. Quite the contrary.

Posted by: truck1 | October 26, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

"No,assuring us they are not gay is not the appropriate and sensitive thing to do."

Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest . . .

Posted by: Hieronymous | October 26, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

"No,assuring us they are not gay is not the appropriate and sensitive thing to do. Quite the contrary."


as i have mentioned before, i have worked for many years, on a suicide and crisis hotline.
one of the cardinal rules we are given in our training, is never to tell a caller, that we "understand" what they are going through.
we are never to assume that we "understand" what another person is going through, or has had to live through.
we demean their experience, when we assume that we "know" their pain.
it may just be my opinion, but in a project that was created (my understanding of it) to address the suffering of young, gay people in our culture, it would be insensitive to speak to their lives, without sharing that you have not dealt with their experience personally, and making that distinction.
i think it would be important to do that with any group of young people, whether it was bullying because of racial discrimination, or obesity, or a physical handicap, or emotional problems or mental illness.
how could you not first express to them, that you have not shared their experience, but have had another life situation that has affected you, and then go on to characterize it?
i just think it is the right thing to do....but i know that everyone feels differently about things.
anyway, any young person who has gone through hell, more than just the more normal struggles of childhood and adolescence, but has been subjected to merciless bullying, and has been able to move past it and feel whole and peaceful and sane in their lives, and has the courage to revisit it quietly, and share their stories, is doing a service to other young people, many suffering in silence and despair.

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

All I am saying is that the personal disclaimer (I am not gay) is unique to this situation. This is not the right place to proclaim your heterosexuality and announce that you have been spared the forms of humiliation that others have endured. If anything, it distances the supposed helpers from the sufferers.

Posted by: truck1 | October 26, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

"announce that you have been spared the forms of humiliation that others have endured."

Funny, I heard him say that the humiliations he endured involved both changing schools and the police. But then, no two humiliations are alike.

Bookish and nerdy kids are every bit as put upon as those deemed effeminate or possibly gay, at least in my experience.

The message I took from it, and I hope that young gays suffering bullying take from it, is that you are not alone.

Just don't understand why you'd take what is obviously a sincere attempt to connect with young folks (and Ezra ain't that much older than they are) and try to put it down.

What are you doing to make a positive difference?

Posted by: Hieronymous | October 26, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"This is not the right place to proclaim your heterosexuality and announce that you have been spared the forms of humiliation that others have endured. If anything, it distances the supposed helpers from the sufferers."

well, i think that by implicitly empathizing with someone's experience, and then explaining that you havent lived through their experience, but would like to share your own, is honoring what they went through. then going on to explain how you dealt with your own life situations....seems to be the appropriate way to handle it.
but as we see, ten different people, will have ten different opinions:-)

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Most people who have observed children would know that bookish and nerdy kids are NOT put upon as boys deemed effiminate are. Have you not been around preteen boys? The words they use to attack boys they are ganging up on are almost all about homosexuality. They never shout "bookworm", "scholar" at some kid they are victimizing.

Posted by: truck1 | October 26, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, @truck1. I'll assume in answer to my question, "What are you doing to make a positive difference?" the answer is . . . nothing.

Posted by: Hieronymous | October 26, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

As Ezra implied, feeling that old emotional bruise or reluctance to disclose is a good indication that there really could be someone out there who will resonate to exactly this "structural" and cerebralized, but very well expressed message. And feel better, and soldier on. I've been looking at as many of these as possible and this one seems likely to reach some that the others might not. Wonderful.

Regarding the disclaimer, it's only a symptom of something very good: this It Gets Better thing is adding the S to the LGBT for present purposes. Seeing the tragedy and wanting to stop it touches our shared humanity, gay and straight, and has activated a common loving response. That certainly doesn't happen very often, unfortunately. So these disclaimers, whatever they might be specifying, can be regarded as badges of honor, signifying from what tribe (policy wonk, sister of perpetual indulgence, etc.) the speaker has joined the main effort.

Posted by: CrowIII | October 26, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

And yet bgmma50 can't compliment Ezra without insulting someone else. Really? The swipe at Maddow was necessary?

Great video - and wonderful points. Thanks for doing this.

Posted by: mc2writer | October 26, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

" The words they use to attack boys they are ganging up on are almost all about homosexuality. They never shout "bookworm", "scholar" at some kid they are victimizing"

i see.
do you also figure out how many angels dance on the head of a pin?

what is your particular meter for which child is suffering the most?

the one who is gay, and called names and ridiculed?
the boy who is bullied badly enough to require police protection in the school?
the girl who is mainstreamed in from the homeless shelter into an upper class school in a fairly affluent area?
the morbidly obese boy with behavioral issues?

answer:
there is no way to determine the depth of suffering, or the toll that bullying takes, in any of its brutal forms,
or to decide which circumstances are worse.
anytime a child is bullied, and made to feel less than, and cant get up in the morning to face another day of humiliation and ridicule, or think that he would be better off dead,
is a bad day for all of us.

these are all of our children.
and when one of them suffers from bullying for any reason,
it is all equally terrible.

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

They are not all of our children. They are their parents' children. The idea that the problem of bullying should be solved by state action is silly and very dangerous. There are many heartbreaking situations in life that people handle alone, or in families or communities. What about men who leave their wives for younger women? That causes untold sorrow for their children and divorced wives. A case for the administration to deal with?

Posted by: truck1 | October 26, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

"They are not all of our children."


in a manner of speaking, yes they are.
we are our brother's keepers.
when a child, or a neighbor of mine is being injured, or hurt, i want to live in a society that protects them, when they cannot protect themselves.....and i would be afraid to think that a neighbor like you might protect me, if this is your philosophy.
in your world, it is not safe to think that you can depend on the kindness of strangers.
and i wouldnt want to live in a world where people only cared about themselves. or a society that was created like that.
the world wouldnt last for very long without safety nets in place to help the weak, the sick, the injured.
i wonder if you have children, or people in your life for whom you are responsible.
it is hard to imagine that you might have children, and not want people to help them when they were suffering.
if you knew a child was being injured or persecuted, you would not call in the police, or whatever authorities could help to protect that child?
and how do you equate that to a situation where a man leaves his wife?
unless he was abusing her, what relevance does that have to a situation where a child is in physical danger, or harassed to the point of wanting to commit suicide?
what kind of an analogy are you setting up?


Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

"There are many heartbreaking situations in life that people handle alone, or in families or communities."

and there are many heartbreaking situations in life that people cannot handle alone, or in families or communities.
and i believe that you are deceiving yourself, if you think otherwise.
we cannot survive without safety nets. we dont live in small tribes. we live in a complicated, impersonal society, where many people have nowhere to turn for help, and often, through no fault of their own.
i dont believe you, or anyone else, could survive for very long without the safety nets that we have in place in our society.
they are the communal fabric that holds us together and gives us safekeeping and order in our lives.
perhaps you can argue theoretically against this, but in the real world, we couldnt last a week without the the laws and agencies that protect us and our property.

Posted by: jkaren | October 26, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

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