It may seem like an obvious point, but it needs to be stated up front: bullying hurts, whether it's by poisoning a family atmosphere, making a person feel inferior and alienated, or causing a young person to go to school dreading another hallway or schoolyard encounter. Bullying or being bullied is not a natural, normal part of growing up. It is damaging, disparaging, and unacceptable.
With the deaths of several Canadian children due to bullying, as well as at least one suicide linked to bullying, the problem has moved to the top of the public agenda. The Minister of Justice was the first speaker at a national conference on the subject in Ottawa last week.
How do we help children treat one another with respect, whether it's quieting insults being exchanged by our children two rows back in the minivan or preventing youths from picking on their peers, physically or in other ways?
We can stop bullying. I remember a time when I was being picked on by a bigger boy in my first year of high school. It happened during physical education period and sometimes in the hallway between classes. But a wonderful, encouraging thing also happened.
A very large boy who was also in grade nine, but who already played on the football team and to whom I had talked a bit at the start of the school year, told me that if I was ever picked on again by the other boy, I should tell him and he would take care of it.
My big friend never had occasion to help me, and I would never have asked him to beat up anyone for me or anyone else. But his comments caused me to feel that someone was aware of what was happening to me and cared.
But what can a parent, teacher, or administrator do to prevent bullying? Some schools have developed zero-tolerance programs or other successful approaches. Certainly you can help by taking bullying seriously and standing ready to intervene if necessary.
One website emphasizes these points to a young person being bullied: 1) you're not alone; 2) you're not the reason why you're being bullied; and 3) you can do something to stop it, so you're not powerless (see www.bullying.org).
Recently, comments made by a youth police officer with 26 years of experience helped me think more spiritually about youths and parents. She said that the parents of the children involved in wrong activity are often good parents. But they don't realize their children are involved in such activity or don't know how to help them. She also said that the young people themselves are good, but they're making terrible decisions.
Jesus reformed a bully by seeing that his true nature was to reflect goodness. Zacchaeus was a tax collector who bullied the people from whom he collected taxes into paying more than they should. But when Jesus stopped to talk to him on the road into Jericho and then went to his house, Zacchaeus repented of the harm he was doing to others. At his own initiative, he committed to making amends. (See Luke 19:1-10.)
To cause such a radical change of character, Jesus must have been seeing beyond Zacchaeus as a bully to his true nature as the reflection of God. What he did relates to this passage from a book by the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pgs. 476-477).
Such thinking about bullies helps us deal with the issue in ways that are practical, wise, and compassionate. It helps us communicate courage to our children and prevents us from getting dragged into condemning another child. It makes us receptive to helpful ideas and aids us in putting those inspired ideas into practice in our family, classroom, school, and school system.
Through prayer and other ways, we can end bullying.