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Kerr: A tragic lesson: It's just not about me

Published January 2, 2013 5:18 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

By Benjamin Kerr

For The Salt Lake Tribune

In late November, David Phan, a classmate of mine at Bennion Junior High School, fatally shot himself on a sky bridge near the school.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned about bullying and how to prevent something tragic like this suicide from ever happening again, but I think enough has been said about that. In fact, I believe the bullying issue has been overstated.

While it's definitely true that David was teased, often maliciously, and didn't have a lot of friends, it's not like anyone wanted him to commit suicide. Sure, what they did was stupid, but the bullies have learned a hard lesson from the intense guilt they certainly feel. Plus, it's too late to go back and change anything.

We can sit here all day and point fingers at the people we believe are responsible, but ultimately that doesn't change the past and it doesn't make the future any brighter.

The biggest lesson I've learned from this tragedy is the fact that "It's just not about me."

The only reason anyone bullies another person is because it makes them feel good. Whether the bullies have been a victim of bullying before or they're just doing it to have fun, their reasons are inherently selfish. Personal gratification at the expense of someone else's happiness is something bullies make every attempt to justify, but ultimately it is unjustifiable.

Another important thing to remember about "It's just not about me" is friendship, not just abstinence from bullying. Anyone can choose not to bully, but it takes courage to be someone's friend.

If I had chosen to talk to David about things he was interested in — guns, the military, etc. — it would have made me a very unpopular person. In reaching out to him, I would have isolated myself. But remember, "It's just not about me."

Evidently, not one person at Bennion — my school — was willing to sacrifice his or her reputation or popularity to reach out to someone in need, and that selfishness ended up costing David and everyone else.

Still, no amount of anger, guilt or rhetoric can change what happened to David. What's done is done. David is dead, and nothing we say can change that. The question now cannot be "What if?" It has to be "What now?"

On Nov. 29, I witnessed something horrible. I was less than 20 feet away when it happened. Most people probably don't even come close to that kind of trauma in their whole lives, and I had to see it when I was 14 years old. Fourteen!

If I didn't recognize that "It's just not about me," then I would probably just go in a corner and cry; after all, I have a great excuse. All of my friends, family members and teachers would understand and feel sorry for me. But I have to be stronger than that.

This world is full of good excuses, and people who are "good enough" use good excuses. But I don't want to be a good enough person; I want to be a great one. And great people let their efforts outshine their excuses.

There are people who are experiencing the same grief I went through, especially with the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn. There are even people who have had thoughts of doing just what David did. If we let our good-enough excuses stop us from reaching out and helping others, then we will have proven that we're not great. We as individuals, as a society, and as a nation owe it to each other to be great.

It's just not about me.

Benjamin Kerr is a student at Bennion Junior High School.