I’m not a University of Tennessee Volunteers football fan or even an alumnus. But I wear my U.T. shirt with pride. This new bright orange T-shirt reminds me to have the moral courage to be open to intervening when possible, especially in the face of bullying.
Let me explain.
Laura Snyder, a fourth grade teacher in Florida, recently found one of her students with his head on his desk crying. At lunch, some fellow pupils had made fun of his homemade University of Tennessee T-shirt. The boy’s teacher didn’t ignore the problem. She responded by reaching out on social media to see if anyone had connections at the University of Tennessee to help get her student some gear. University officials heard about the incident and sent a box full of U.T. paraphernalia to the boy’s class and then put his hand-drawn design on official university merchandise. It quickly became a bestseller.
The schoolteacher’s actions remind me of Christ Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. The parable describes how two people passed by a man who’d been robbed, beaten, and left by the side of the road. That’s an extreme case of bullying. But it was the loving response of a third passerby, the Samaritan, that offers us a guide for how to respond to any kind of bullying: with Christly compassion and acts of love.
Jesus told that parable as an example of what it means to love our neighbor. We don’t know if the Samaritan reported the assault. I don’t know if Ms. Snyder said anything to the bullies directly. Regardless, her response was to be an active bystander (one who chooses to intervene), rather than a passive bystander. Her act of kindness completely turned that incident of bullying around, and the result was joy and a sense of pride for the boy.
But what if you find yourself the target of bullying, or an attack on your character – either in person or on social media? How do you respond to that?
At one point, a colleague at work seemed to be unfairly attacking me and the quality of my work. I didn’t understand why and felt hurt. When I turned to God and prayed, the word “respect” kept coming to mind. I didn’t listen at first. “Of course I respect that individual,” I argued. But when I couldn’t shake it, I looked up the definition online: “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” (lexico.com).
It made me pause. Nope. I wasn’t feeling anything like “deep admiration.” My “respect” was superficial.
My study and practice of Christian Science had taught me that to truly be a Christian, we must see others in the same way that God, divine Love, sees them. To start to see that office “bully” as God saw them, I needed to not only stop myself from obsessing over the apparent negative qualities this individual was expressing, but also discover the spiritual good in that individual as God’s loved child. I needed what I think of as “a Genesis 1 perspective” of my fellow man, instead of the flawed Genesis 2 perspective where man is mortal and discordant.
In that first chapter of Genesis in the Bible, it says “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” It goes on to say: “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (verses 27, 31).
I reasoned that this individual was divinely created as “very good.” To see this more clearly, I started by making a list of qualities that I could truly admire about them: Creativity. Poise. A strong work ethic. I recognized these qualities as having their source in God. The initial list was at least 10 qualities long. And I studied it.
Over the next few days I observed that individual, not only to see those qualities being expressed, but to look for other Godlike qualities. My list grew: Intelligence. Kindness. Devotion. I prayed daily to see that person not as a flawed human but as a divine idea going about their Father’s business, expressing God’s goodness.
As I prayed daily and watched my thoughts, my own fear and frustration dissipated. That shift changed how I saw myself – I could see my true nature as gracious, generous, and open – and changed how I responded to critical comments. Over the course of two to three weeks, we gradually stopped clashing. We took steps to rebuild our relationship, and to understand and respect each other’s ideas and approaches.
In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this news organization, writes: “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” (pp. 476-477).
True, there might be situations where we need to take additional action when we are faced with such verbal bullying. But I felt a power in removing that false concept of a “bully” and seeing the scientifically accurate man, as Christ Jesus showed us. Through consistent prayer, I got to a place of “deep admiration,” a place of true respect, not reluctant respect.
Yes, I wear my new bright orange U.T. shirt to celebrate Ms. Snyder’s response, but it also reminds me that bullying has no power and no place in our lives.