My 7-year-old daughter was picked on at the park recently by two younger girls who were teasing her for being different from the other kids. Her younger brother quickly came to her defense and defused the situation, but it was still a poignant moment for me. I think besides feeling a maternal pang of love and defensiveness, I was surprised at how early in childhood bullying could begin.
Heart-rending news stories, and a growing number of bullying-prevention programs and websites, point to the need for improved response from parents, teachers, and administrators. In a disturbingly high number of recent cases, bullying has included grave physical and mental abuse, and has even led to suicide.
Whether or not a family member or friend is being bullied, each of us can gain inspiration and vision on how to help by taking a prayer-based approach that considers the inherent worth of each individual. Human factors such as physique, social standing, economic status, or appearance can lead to the misconception that some people are simply more important or worthy than others. But recognizing each one of us as a reflection of God, possessing inherent dignity and worth, correctly levels the playing field, and leaves no one out of God’s care.
Author Mary Baker Eddy explained how to judge worth this way: “Take away wealth, fame, and social organizations, which weigh not one jot in the balance of God, and we get clearer views of Principle. Break up cliques, level wealth with honesty, let worth be judged according to wisdom, and we get better views of humanity” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 239).
A correct sense of every person’s worth allows the bully to recognize that these attacks are simply wrong and it also encourages the bullied to see that asking adults for help or protection is not a sign of weakness. And it can alert parents and schools to respond more quickly. The victim is fearful, and often those standing by are fearful, wanting desperately to fit in (or continue fitting in). They may feel as if their own social standing is too fragile to risk defending the victim. But such self-centered fears have a way of melting when a valued individual is being mistreated.
To “let worth be judged according to wisdom” can also provide teachers and administrators with a more impartial view of the students, and the mental sharpness, courage, and compassion to stop abuse before it gets out of hand.
Interestingly, the idea of our inherent worth allows one to have compassion for the bully as well. No one who is truly content inside would act out the aggressive behaviors that characterize bullying. I have found it strangely comforting to remember that God loves the bully, too. He or she has the divine right to be released from the feelings that prompt domineering behavior, and to have the mental space to repent and let go of destructive behaviors.
Prayer promotes a spiritual view that admits the infinite worth and purity of all concerned. Holding that spiritual view more consistently will progressively neutralize both fear and hatred, and allow the natural expression of God’s infinite individuality to be seen in neighborhoods, offices, school hallways, and on playgrounds.