Thirteen Reasons Why

Boy, talk about seeing things from the other side!

I started watching this Netflix show, ready to tear it apart.  In turn, it did its level best to tear me apart.  I’m going to call it a draw.

First of all, I think it was well written. The intrigue and how the plot develops, with various characters not knowing for sure how other characters will react, keeps the story moving forward. In some ways it is a bit too “teen-angsty” and maybe a little soap-operatic. But I will overlook that, because it drew out some important dynamics. It certainly made me glad to be homeschooling my teenage daughters!!  

I will try to be a bit general so as not to “spoil” the entire plot.  I will say, for any future viewers, that there were three scenes from which I had to guard my heart.  I looked away from the screen, and let the audio tell me the story.  It is haunting enough on its own. Fortunately, it was pretty obvious when these scenes were coming. And on the last one, I even muted the audio for a little bit. (I got the idea.) There is a cautionary message at the beginning of these episodes.  Also, bad language is used quite frequently.

Second, I have a feeling that this story is a bit of a Rorschach test for the viewer. It hits each of us differently, depending on whether we are most strongly the bully, the bullied, or the bereaved.

The bullies

One striking thing about this tale is the self-interest — the self-protection — the self-worship of many of the 13 people.  Some of them used her or threw her under the bus to please or protect themselves. They dismissed or discarded her when she didn’t suit their selfish interests. Even later, as they colluded to prevent Hannah’s testimony from getting out, each was thinking of himself. Some didn’t even have that much to lose, but they were willing to sin to keep their reputation in place.  This is a brutally honest reflection our culture, which, in turn, reflects our nature.  Make a mistake? Don’t admit it. Hurt someone? Blame it on them for being in the wrong place.

The Gospel compels us to do differently.  We are to confess our sins, admit our mistakes, make amends, and show grace. We are to defend the weak, not serve the idol of popularity.  Hopefully this show will cause many to think about this in their specific life circumstances and how we may be clinging too tightly to idols of social standing.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly….”  James 4:1-3

The bereaved

Another powerful phenomenon here was the conflict of Clay.  He wanted to draw closer to Hannah, but he was insecure. “If only” he had known how weak she was, he thinks in retrospect, he would have been stronger for her.  But since he didn’t know, he remained stuck in his own insecurity.  Could he have done better?  Of course.  We can all learn from his regret.  And her parents? Ditto, only they were not insecure, just distracted by the cares and worries of this world.

My friend Julie taught me the concept of “moving toward” other people. Boy, does that go against my nature! I want to hide, to stay below the radar. When people are ugly or mean, I want to run away.  But the power of the Gospel is in moving toward.  While we were yet sinners, Christ laid down His life and died for us. No one took it from Him, but He gave it up because it was the only price that would suffice. Not suicide, but sacrifice. Not selfish, but selfless. Not self-absorbed, but pouring Himself out. Not retreating, but pushing back against evil in order to gain the victory –our entry into His presence. As we walk out our identity as Christ-followers, we can look for ways to move toward others in love.

Even if we are not bullying people or using them, are we noticing them? This show inspires me to look at people with more care, give them more time. Not because some dramatic Hollywood thing might happen if I don’t, but because that is what we all need.  That is what Jesus did. He looked at people and He loved them.

The bullied  

By the end of the show, I could see that Hannah was a victim of many things. Some acts committed against her were heartless and should never have been done. Some words or actions she received were accidental, unintentional messages that she was not important. Those people should not necessarily feel “responsible for her death,” as she puts it, but they should be sobered by how our selfishness can affect others.

Hannah had a moment where she decided to take her life. She spent several days planning it out and crafting a message to leave behind for those who hurt her, or disappointed her.  Because of this, I would say that she took her life to spite other people. Yes, she was sad, and lonely to the extreme. But she did have people in her life who cared.  If she had told her parents she was suffering, they certainly would have set their own drama aside to serve her. An acquaintance even reached out to her at the very end–a moment that could have been a turning point. But she was being a bit, well, stubborn by then. The pain of rejection and objectification by people who didn’t know her well clouded out her ability to see the love she was receiving from those who knew her better.  She had recorded this whole narrative in which 13 people were “responsible for her death,” and she believed it. In her mind, there was only one ending.

The Bottom Line

“Fine. Whatever.” I have said this, in my mind our out loud. It is a complete dismissal of the other person, their case, their offer; a statement that I am just not going to try anymore.  It is a cop out!  Hannah basically said this to the last person she approached. What could he have done differently to change her mind?  The people who did care about her would have had to supernaturally read her mind and respond by breaking beyond all social norms in order to turn her around.  

Don’t let this be you.  On any level, even if you have never considered suicide, don’t take on this toxic mentality.

Don’t take things so personally that you punish yourself to spite others.  And, while you’re at it, check to make sure that the person bullying you the most isn’t YOU. (Thanks to my friend Jennie for this insight!)

Don’t let people assault you (in any sense of the word) without fighting back. Even if you were unable to speak up at the time and the only fighting back you can do is after the fact, fight back. Fight for justice–and on a higher level, fight for the soul of the broken, sinful person who hurt you. Fight for reconciliation, when possible. Consider the words of  Peter:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Fight against the schemes of the devil.

Don’t suffer alone.  Talk to someone. If that person doesn’t listen or doesn’t have time for you or makes you feel worse, talk to someone else until you find hope.  It is a true blessing to your brothers and sisters in Christ when you share your burden, state your need, and give them an opportunity to come alongside and help you.

In closing, I hope that anyone reading this can finish these sentences and think about how to live them out. Either you have the verses memorized, or you may need to seek out the answers from a Bible, the Bible Gateway site, or a Bible-believing friend. In contrast to the world that we typically see in Hollywood, the Gospel of Jesus Christ turns so much of how we live completely upside down…for Good.

In all your ways acknowledge Him…. (Proverbs 3:6)

Resist the devil…. (James 4:7)

Blessed are those who mourn…. (Matthew 5:4)

Our father in heaven… (Matthew 6:9)

Ask, and it will…. (Matthew 7:7)

Do not be anxious about your own life… (Matthew 6:25)