This blog post isn’t in line with my usual topics – however, it’s something I’ve found myself extremely eager to write about. Like many people, this week I watched ’13 Reasons Why.’ It’s been unavoidable, you just have to scroll through any social media platform and you’ll see it either being advertised or discussed. If you haven’t finished it just yet, don’t read on, save the link to this blog post and come back when you’re done.
If you’ve completed the show then you’ll know just how profoundly raw it was, from start to end. It was unapologetically truthful and equally graphic. I’m not going to go into detail about what happened, I’m more focused on the message the show left us all with.
As the end credits came up on the final episode I found myself a bit mentally exhausted. We ploughed through the 13 episodes in just a matter of days, but not in the same way that I have addictively watched any other show before. Normally, it’s because a show is entertaining. This, however, wasn’t a pleasure to watch at all. ’13 Reasons Why’ was actually quite disturbing, but at the same time very intriguing. I was gripped from the very first episode. Although I watched eagerly in a curious way, I also watched in anticipation, to see if the characters on the tapes would get their comeuppance. As a society, we shy away from those topics that feature so prominently in this show; violence, alcohol addiction, rape, self-harm and suicide. Those topics are very much taboo, which truthfully shouldn’t be the way. Doesn’t this make it harder for those suffering from mental or physical abuse to talk about what is happening to them? Or make it harder for someone to seek help?
I’m not going to discuss the things that led to Hannah Baker committing suicide. What I am going to talk about is how important the overriding message was. The message resonated repeatedly throughout every episode was that “you never know what is going on in someone else’s life”. This is very true, in all walks of life.
When the show ended I found myself reflecting. I’m positive that I am not the only person who did so. I thought back to my time at school, and my social experiences. I thought about cliques, about gossip, about rumours I had heard…rumours that admittedly I repeated. I thought about some of the things that were said about me, or to me. I recall boys in my year making fun of one of my physical features whilst we sat in the lecture theatre before assembly, and how that hurt me so much and that it has stuck with me. 10 years on I still allow a couple of comments made by boys (who I’m sure probably only vaguely remember who I am) to affect my confidence. I thought about how many times the social circle of girls I sat with fell in and out of friendship with each other. I thought about how I was excluded for weeks because I happened to pick the same school bag as another girl in that group, and how she sent me horrible messages about it, and when I got upset I begged my dad to buy me a new school bag because I couldn’t handle how I was being treated…over a bag! I thought about a number of things and remembered moments that I felt hurt or excluded. I remember exactly the people involved. I know for a fact that many girls and boys went through the same thing. It’s more than likely that at some point during your school life you experienced unkind words. I thought long and hard about the people in my year. Then I had another horrible moment of realisation – I know deep down that I wasn’t the nicest of girls either, I’m positive I hurt other people’s feelings, it’s the way school works (unfortunately). It also saddens me that I can’t remember the people I was mean to, I can’t remember anything I specifically said, but I bet you they remember. I’m sure if you’re honest too, you have also said hurtful things, excluded someone, made fun of someone behind their back, passed on rumours or gossiped. It’s human nature, and it’s very much ingrained in school culture. Then it echoes beyond the school gates, and into our futures, into the workplace, and into adult social circles. Unfortunately, the behaviour in school also follows us into adult life.
We’re so quick to judge people, pass comment, hurt their feelings or decide from the get go that we dislike them. I’m not saying we should get on with everyone, it’s only natural to get on with some people and not with others. I’m just saying we should be more thoughtful, we should be kinder. All of us. You have no idea what is going on in someone else’s life, what struggles they are facing. We should try our hardest to be nice to other humans.
I’m wondering whether the fact that I’m now a parent has made me think so deeply about this. Someday my son will go off to school, a place where he is going to be educated, but more than anything a place he is going to socialise and make friends. I know that schools will never ever be a bully-free zone, we don’t live in a perfect world, but I do hope that he has an overall positive experience. I really hope that myself and Andy bring him up in a way that he recognises how important it is to be nice to others. Peer pressure, popularity, and social hierarchy will exist forever, but maybe if we teach our children that it is ‘nice to be nice’ – school and socialising will be a much a more positive experience for them.
At 24 years old it shouldn’t take a fictional television show to make me really think about myself as a person, and reassess how I treat others – but it did. ’13 Reasons Why’ has really made me think about my past, and how I can be a nicer person today. You do not know what someone else is going through, you never know the struggles they have faced or how they are truly feeling. It’s horrifying to imagine that your words or comments could potentially be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m honestly not trying to be high and mighty, I’ll be the first to admit I will find it hard not to get caught up in idle gossip. However, I’m going to make a more conscious effort. It’s nice to be nice.