With the end of the school year, a lot of the attention to bullying has diminished. While our attention has shifted, the problem has not ended. Bullying is a type of abuse we associate with school children picking on each other, calling names, ostracizing, and fighting. The recent attention was garnered when children and young people killed themselves rather than continue to suffer this abuse.
Bullying has been around for a very long time and almost all of us can tell stories of being a victim of bullying or witnessing bullying taking place. We also pretend that it is limited to school aged people. Because it has been with us, and because we tell ourselves that you outgrow it, we do very little about bullying that takes place around us all of the time.
This behavior is rooted in the idea that in order to be superior to others, I have to demonstrate that superiority in ways of power and force. Anyone who is different or at least different from me is therefore less than me and needs to be shown that they must fall into my framework of being, or at least acknowledge my superiority. As we get older, and as technology has increased the ability to communicate, bullying has grown more sophisticated and sometimes less obvious.
The playground bully can now text and tweet and use the internet to broaden the impact of his/her abuse. What might once have been limited to a single schoolyard is now available globally in minutes. This is very serious and destructive.
What kind of actions can we as a church take to begin to alter this bullying? Be aware of how we talk about other people with whom we disagree. Do we verbally diminish them and categorize them in ways that seem to lessen their right to hold a different opinion or belief? Do we listen to and support media practices that insult any who disagree? Much of what passes for news can give the appearance of bullying and teach children that not only is it acceptable, but also the proper way to deal with those who are outside our framework of normal. The attitude of hostility and attack that is so prevalent in our political society can lead people to believe that bullying is the way to win success in life. Be the best bully, the most powerful bully and you will win.
Jesus taught us to see each other as Children of God. He taught us to avoid passing judgment on the worth of others. He challenged us to love each other as we should love ourselves. If you weigh the number of times Jesus verbally condemned someone as opposed to lovingly guided someone, you will see the proportion we should follow. Those who received the most scathing words from Jesus were those who chose to condemn the behavior of people they were charged with guiding, without an effort to be understanding and treat them with justice and righteousness.
Help teach children to listen and strive to understand why someone might be different from them. Help them to understand that each child is special and important in their own ways. A parent with more than one child may at some point be asked, “Which child do you love more?” We often respond by saying that we love them all the same. This is not exactly accurate. We love each child for themselves and since they are each different, we must love them differently. The child going through the hardest time at that moment needs the greatest amount of love at that moment. Our love for our children is not a calm pool equally doled out, but rather a tap that flows with the amount of love needed for each child at the moment of their lives. We need to teach the children to see that loving others does not diminish the love for family and friends.
We must also demonstrate with our own lives the proper way to show respect to other people. We often say that respect must be earned. This is true, up to a point. As each of us is a child of God, we must begin by offering each other that level of respect that we would show God. We are the visible Image of God in the world, so is everyone else. Therefore, we should begin our dealings with a basic level of respect for every person. From there we can offer greater or even lesser respect as it is merited. Also remember that you too, must begin at that same level when you meet new people. Do not expect to be granted greater respect than you demonstrate.
Finally, we need to remember that while bullying is an act of force, equal force does not defeat it; neither does greater force. Jesus defied the bullying of the Roman Empire, even to the point of his crucifixion. God defeated that bullying in the resurrection. The one who was called names, beaten, and killed became our source of hope and shalom.