on bullying – opening a discussion

 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31

Image borrowed from UCLA “writing success” blog

BULLY: This morning I’m going to open a discussion on bullying. I’m not sure what I’m going to say yet, because posting for me tends to involve thinking out loud. But I do know that I’m not interested in a political slant. In fact, I’ll likely upset both Democrats and Republicans because my first point is this: “Bullying is about the misuse of power, and for many of America’s powerful it is second nature.”

Bullying is a coercive transaction between those with power and those without power, in which power overrides the values our culture claims to stand for, such as fairness, justice, decency, equality, respect, kindness etc.

Bullying occurs anywhere where Christ’s commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a foundational teaching. And that includes many religious institutions and so-called Christian homes, where religion is used as a tool for control rather than a vehicle for teaching the life-charged principles of the Gospel of Love.

PROBLEM: My concern with the current bullying conversation is that it is too limited. The foundational orientation does not go away just because bullies graduate from school. Bullies tend to transfer the ethos to the way they relate to those with less power in the adult world (often as husbands, teachers, coaches, principals, managers, law enforcement officers, airport security etc. etc.).

So I don’t believe the problem is necessarily “So-and-so was a bully in high school.” So much as, “So-and-so still describes such behavior as ‘hijinks’ or ‘boys will be boys,’ or ‘tomfoolery,’ or ‘we didn’t really hurt him, so no-harm no-foul….'”

In other words, many of the people who hold power as adults still fail to see “what the big deal is.”

And why is that? I believe it’s because even today their knee-jerk response to those with less power remains “Hold their arm behind their back and apply pressure till it hurts and make them do whatever it is that you want them to do.”

WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE: What I’d like to see is a kind of informal Bill of Rights for the Powerless. The principles really exist already in the text and spirit of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But too many power-holders act as if those are documents of convenience rather than a practical blueprint for making society work.

Here’s an “on the fly” draft:

  • There is no quirkiness, peculiarity, appearance, orientation or variation from the statistical “norm” that makes any human being less equal, valuable or worthy of respect. So LEAVE THEM ALONE!
  • The foundational right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not subject to the whim of anyone holding power over them.
  • The statement “All people are created equal” is not mitigated by accessibility to money, influence, intellect or brute strength.
  • That right is also not diminished by age. Children are also “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
  • The use of power to belittle, coerce, embarrass, detain, frighten, terrorize or otherwise compromise the “all people are created equal” rights of another human being is un-American, and it’s un-American to the very core of our values as a people.

Be excellent to one-another

TRUST: Freedom is predicated on trust, righteousness and mutual respect. In other words, we can’t legislate “nice.” However, we can teach it, and until parents and schools take a more responsible and deliberate interest in the moral development of young people, the United States of America will remain a poor approximation of the society envisioned by the founders.

I’m pushing 700 words, so that’s enough for this preliminary discussion.

Peace (and kindness) – DEREK



Categories: The Life That Truly is Life, The Life-Charged Life

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Excellent article!! Great points, and I’m sure you’ll get comments from those who don’t agree 🙂

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  2. Hi, Derek! Bullying is more than abuse. It is HABITUAL/SERIAL abuse and cruelty to those weaker than the bully. It’s just not physical. Often, it is far more psychological and that kind of bullying is far more damaging in the long run. Victims of physical bullying can get over a bruise or other physical damage, but the psychological damage that is inflicted can be permanent. The irony of the word “bully” is that it also means a sweetheart or a fine chap. In my work in prison, I’ve seen the costs of bullying because many prisoners view bullying and violence as a perfectly acceptable solution to problems. Child and spousal abuse (domestic violence) are learned behaviors and those cycles of behavior, passed from generation to generation, are frightfully costly to all of us. Great writing and wonderful thoughtfulness, Derek. Peace and Blessings

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  3. My kid’s schools really push anti bullying rhetoric… i guess you could say they are bully about not bullying. anyway, we didn’t get all that when i was a kid. i like what they are learning. they are much kinder than i was at that age. gives some hope for the future.

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  4. True words and clearly based on Scripture. I would only add that those that abuse others with power over them not only stop, but employ their power in a loving way. Repentance is not just turning from evil, but going in the opposite direction.

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  5. I love the idea of a “covenant” like this between kids and parents, or better yet, adopted by the school system…That would reach the kids who need it. Unfortunately for the school system, you’d have to leave the Jesus part out, but I still think it could be effective.

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  6. I work at a public school and like so many other schools, we are increasing our efforts to intercept and decrease bullying. That is far more complicated than it seems it should be. We don’t have control over the whole of students’ lives, and the bullies simply take their meanness to other places. A teacher defending a child can make things worse outside of school, as in “You got me in trouble so here is what I owe you for that…” We have parents of bullies defend their rights to treat other people badly. We have media stars who specialize in disrespect and put-down humor. We have mostly-decent kids who understand that the easiest way to protect themselves from the bullies is to condone the attacks. We have a society that increasingly thinks that schools have no right to teach values of any sort.

    We will keep trying to create a better safer society within the school building, but as Derek says, you can’t legislate “nice.” It really is a matter of the hearts and spirits of the bullies. They like the power. They like the sense of superiority. They feel clever and smart when they bring someone down. Some of them are damaged themselves. It is also a matter of the spirits of the bystanders; they somehow need the courage and inner strength not to “reward” the bullies with fear and complicity and occasional admiration. And it is a matter of the spirits of the victims too. They need much healing and a voice of truth that tells them that the bullying is about the bully’s sin, not about the victims’ value. They need an inner strength that leaves them less susceptible. Until we can somehow spread the good news gospel of love your neighbor I fear the problem will be with us. Jesus was right (as usual) – as a person thinks in his or her heart, so he or she is….the essential changes in people start inside them… as people of Christ we can spread that news …

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