Monday, December 03, 2012

Some Thoughts on Bullying

Here are some good thoughts on bullying from Mart DeHaan, leader of RBC Ministries. They were triggered by his screening of the 2011 documentary, Bully.

DeHaan also includes a definition of bullying:
...aggressive behavior that uses force or coercion to humiliate and exploit the weakness of others.
He then points out that this phenomenon isn't confined to children and cites examples of bullying, as well as bravery in the face of bullying, from the Bible.

I have a particular interest in bullying because I myself was bullied throughout much of my growing-up years. Junior high school (grades 7, 8, and 9) was a nightmare for me. Grade 10 was only marginally better. It included being frequently hit (hard) on the back of the head, getting punched, and often facing off against three to four taunting, hitting, pushing bullies on the daily walk home from school. Verbal taunting and putdowns were steady.

Because of these and other experiences, nobody has to convince me of the reality of original sin. We come fully equipped with the desire to "be like God," which we interpret as being domineering top dogs or at least keeping others "beneath" us.

Adolescence is a time of sorting out and I know now that those classmates who bullied me--many among the most popular kids in the school--were sorting things out: their places in the world, their identities, and so on. I just happened to be a convenient tool for doing that.

In my own case, the experience has left me with a permanent preference for the underdog. I try my best always to affirm the person who seems most ignored or even the most despised in any circle of people.

Nearly five decades later, I can look back and say that while I didn't deserve to be verbally derided, physically punched, slapped in the head, or shunned, my very appearance in a room acted as a flashing, "Bully me!" sign. I was mouthy and egotistical, risky behaviors for one of the smallest and youngest people in my classes. These behaviors can partly be explained because I wasn't just younger than my classmates, I was also the least mature. I was no athlete, though I have always loved sports. I wasn't a scholar or a musician. I had no niche and I was coddled at home. There was plenty about me not to like.

I'm fortunate. I eventually found something of a niche in high school. In subsequent years, my wife Ann has taught me how to do what I so desperately wanted to do in my growing-up years, make friends. God is engaged in a lifelong project of making war on my ego, which, I hope, makes me a little easier to be around. He's also constantly assuring me of my value and worth through Jesus Christ.

Bullying, it seems, is an even bigger issue today than it was when I spent chunks of my school years dreading the beginning of each new day. We live in a far more violent society today. So-called reality shows seem to convey that wise people dominate others. Thuggery is extolled. Dysfunctional families create holes in the souls of too many children. Social media make it easy to bully and humiliate others over the Internet, complete with photoshopped imagery that gives credence to the cruel things bullies say about others. Many kids, whether implicitly or explicitly, see all of these things as green lights for bullying. They make it a hard time to grow up!

Which is why the ministry of the Church is so important!

We proclaim a God Who became one of us in order to offer new life to all who believe in Him. You don't have to be the strongest, smartest, or best-looking according to the shifting standards of a social system ticketed for hell. God loves you as you are and wants to help you become all you were made to be.

If we adult Christians can, through our words and, more importantly, our actions, convey these truths to young people, they'll be less inclined to be bullies or to accept the bullies' verdict about their lives. They'll have less reason to lash out at others because of being the victims of bullying.

As with all things in life, sharing and absorbing the truth about the God Who meets us in Jesus Christ into every element of our lives will go a long way toward diminishing and erasing bullying from kids' lives.

We'll never completely eliminate evil from this fallen world or from ourselves. (And bullying is evil.) But I've found that when Christians start living out their faith in Jesus Christ and relying on the Holy Spirit to guide them in living as the people we were made to be, good things happen in the world around us.

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