Karen Osborne

Let’s be clear: People are not things.

In general, things are to be used. You use a fork to eat. You use a cellphone to call your mother. You use a bus to get from Point A to Point B. Everyone uses things — computers, cars, restaurants, shoes.

And I think that most of us would obviously agree that people — each one unique, beautiful and spectacular — are not things, and that people are not to be used like things. Right?

When the rubber hits the road, though — or, more accurately, when our fingers hit the Internet — things get a little less clear, and that’s unfortunate.

Why do so many people continue to treat their fellow human beings as if they are things to be used?

See, for some politicians, constituents stop being people after a while and become votes. They think only of how many “votes” they can get and stop thinking of how the laws they’re creating will affect the daily lives of their constituents.

For some businesspeople, employees and customers stop being people and become sources of income. When you treat a person like a thing, does it really matter whether your product negatively affects their health or life?

Teens can lose that perspective, too. For some teens, classmates stop being people and start being things, too — objects of derision, objects of laughter and objects of bullying.

Even if you’re someone who swears they would never ever bully someone else, it’s easy to lose your perspective when you’re browsing the Internet, as any victim of a cyberbully can tell you. Even good, normal people have made fun of people who aren’t like them on Facebook or over text and on Twitter.

If you really think about the last time this happened, you might not like the answer. It was most likely a recent thing. You might have laughed at someone on TMZ, or on Reddit, on any number of “Failblogs” or on People of Wal-Mart, or on any number of blogs and sites dedicated to making fun of real human beings.

We have to remember that the people in those photographs are human, that they aren’t things to be used, and that their feelings are just as real as they are. In a recent article on Salon.com, writer Caitlin Seida describes how depressing it felt when a picture of her dressed as the skinny Tomb Raider heroine, Lara Croft, went viral.

Commenters across the country called her a “heifer.” They called her “disgusting.” They told her that she should kill herself because she is “worthless.” They laughed at her. They bullied her simply because she was a little overweight.

They treated her like a thing — like “a punch line on a giant stage,” as Seida wrote.

Luckily, Seida said, not all of the commenters were mean. Some stood up for her, telling the bullies to stop and supporting Seida’s decision to wear whatever costume she wanted to on Halloween.

Seida says that now, like those commenters, she speaks up “whenever a friend gets a cheap laugh from one of those sites. I know what it’s like to be the person in that horrible photograph. I can’t inflict such pain on someone else,” she said.

Be the kind of person who speaks up to people like this, not the kind that talks down to their victims. When you find yourself whispering behind someone’s back or teasing someone on Facebook, put a halt to it and ask that others do the same.

There’s no reason to be a cyberbully and every reason to be a decent, wonderful human being. Respect others’ feelings and treat them like you want to be treated.

Don’t be a bully!