Why Karen Klein?

At this point, most people know who Karen Klein is. This 68 year-old bus monitor who lived in everyday anonymity until just a few weeks ago is now being honored with red carpet strolls and guest spots on The Today Show. Karen Klein, however, rode a slingshot to all of this after enduring cruel and brutal bullying from a group of children on the bus she supervised in a video that ended up going viral on the internet. From the virtual audience of appalled viewers, a man named Max Sidorov emerged and started an Indiegogo campaign that requested $5,000 to send Karen on a dream vacation. In just a matter of weeks the campaign has achieved more than $677,000 (with 18 more days still to go) that will undoubtedly change the life of this resolute woman.

And last week, the children that bullied Karen were punished with a year long suspension for their behavior and Klein commented “I don’t want to judge anybody or put them in jail or anything like that. I just want them to learn a lesson.”

When reflecting on this particular crowdfunding story however, it makes me want to interrogate the psychology that catapulted this campaign forward. And I suppose there’s much to be said about all of the press and support she’s received, but I think something more is at work here.

Although Klein endured a vicious level of persecution and cruelty from those kids that scandalized a number of people who viewed the video, the truth is that Klein’s story is not a unique one. Many adults and children, including Max Sidorov suffered dreadful social conditions as a result of bullying and are still carrying the burden of that experience. So the call for funds isn’t just about her, it’s personal.

And it’s manageable. If there was an Indiegogo fund that was poised to take on the issue of bullying and schoolyard harassment entire, I doubt that the campaign would have done so well. But helping one woman? Being a part of her one great vacation? That can be offered comfortably. The problem isn’t so daunting that it can’t be overcome. It is possible to make one woman’s life better, even if it doesn’t solve the problem in total. Although it’s possible that this one woman will raise awareness about a very real problem.

To me, the message is: make it personal, make a real problem manageable, and people are glad to give.

What do you think about Karen Klein’s story? How do you hope this changes her future?

UPDATE: This article explores some of the mass psychology at work in this case while raising some interesting ethical questions.

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