Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

September 25, 2010

OUR OPINION: A Return To Tolerance

Greensburg Daily News

— Violence is all around us, whether it comes in the form of a fist, knife or gun. Even Decatur County is not immune.

However, the most prevalent violent acts experienced in our community come from words. It is said, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." They hurt Billy Lucas. They hurt every child brave enough to ascend the stairs in front of the courthouse and take a stand against bullying during the candlelight vigil last week.

Word of Billy Lucas' suicide was received by the Daily News less than 12 hours after it happened. Our policy is to only report on suicide if it is committed in a public place or involves a public figure. Out of respect for the family, we chose to let him pass in peace.

However, his act turned whispers into screams. While bullying may only be part of Billy's story, it has shed light on a problem that has been ignored in our community for far too long: A lack of tolerance.

The Greensburg school system acted quickly. Despite a zero-tolerance policy on bullying implemented three years ago, Superintendent Tom Hunter realized it was ineffective and chose to swiftly remedy the situation. It was too late to save Billy, but perhaps it will save countless more like him.

Despite these efforts, one thing is lacking from the options the schools will explore to counter bullying in the "student experience." There were no specifics. There was no statement that we will not accept hate targeted at any one group, and name those groups individually. This is an important aspect if school culture is to be transformed.

However, this is not an issue isolated to Greensburg schools. Billy transferred from South Decatur to escape the same bullying he would later encounter at GHS. We hope the county schools will also look at their policies to ensure students are safe.

Bullying does not stop and start at the front doors of our educational institutions. It is a community-wide epidemic. As many things do, it begins at home. Parents have the right to teach their children their beliefs, but they need to reiterate that not everyone shares those beliefs, and it does not mean they are to be ridiculed.

We must change the culture of intolerance in our community. No longer should someone be excluded simply because they do not conform to an individual's or majority's belief system. We need to impart that on our children.

Changing the culture starts with us.

We are not asking anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone has the freedom to believe as they wish, but to consistently bully someone, anyone, because they do not fit into one's system of values is wrong.

We need to remember everyone is different, and it is, and has always been, our uniqueness - the different things we bring to the table - that makes each and every community great. We need to approach people with compassion and love, not aggression and hate. We need a return to tolerance and respect.