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It seems bullying is epidemic these days. The cruel facts reveal that 23 percent of elementary students report being bullied one to three times in the last month; 77 percent of students report having been bullied; and each day 160,000 kids stay home from school for fear of being bullied.
I remember being bullied. It happened in my own front yard. I was in third grade, maybe fourth. We were playing football when some kids in junior high invited themselves to our game. Being bigger than us, they quickly took the game away. Then it got ugly. They began to call us names, “Punks,” “Wimps,” “Sissies.” Abusive language for the 1960s. The name calling escalated into pushing and shoving. We were intimidated by these older, bigger kids.
And then, from nowhere, or so it seemed, my older brother, Mark, showed up. Somehow he had seen what was happening. Mark was a stand-out football player for the Altus High School Bulldogs. He walked into our humiliating situation, took the football in his grip and zinged it at one of the bullies. It stung the kid, slipping through his hands and bouncing off his chest. “What’s wrong? Can’t take a ball thrown that fast?” Mark challenged. “Well, if you can’t play with the big boys, why are you picking on these little kids who are younger and smaller than you?”
That’s all it took. They lowered their heads and sulked away. Mark tossed the ball back to us and left without saying another word. Nothing more needed to be said. Case closed.
But what happens when no older brother or friend or parent shows up? What happens when our protectors are no longer there? Therein is the problem.
Experts tell us to communicate with others if we are bullied. Tell a parent or some authority. Also, stay in a group, and if possible, stand up to the bully, but don’t fight back.
People bully for many reasons. In one survey, 1 in 5 students admitted to having been a bully or bullying others at some point. Perhaps the root cause for bullying is a sense of insecurity on the part of the bully which expresses itself in a feeling of superiority over someone whose character the bully despises. Unfortunately, gayness has been an object for bullying. In the month of September 2010 alone, nine young people, gay or suspected of being gay, took their lives after being bullied.
So, what’s the solution? Maybe the best place to start is for everyone to take a look within and ask, “Is there a bully in me?”
All of us have voices from the present and past that haunt us and cause us to engage in less than admirable behaviors. Sometimes the bully within whispers in our ear, “You’re a loser; you’re not worth it; you can’t.” And so, in frustration, we speak words of condemnation to the child in our home, or our spouse, or that different girl or guy at work or school. And we think somehow the negative feelings we receive from the bully within us will be abated by putting another down. Hurting others will make us feel better, we think. But it’s an illusion. It only reinforces negativity; we become less authentically human as a result.
Perhaps the key is to address that bully within. To say, “I am better than that,” is not to exalt oneself above others but to acknowledge God’s positive plan for us. We can live with others who are different — with red and yellow, black and white, gay and straight, for they are precious in his sight. God loves people. Period. To bully one of God’s creatures is an affront to the God who made them. We don’t have to bully others to prove who we are. We just have to embrace the “Yes,” from the one who loves us always, just as we are, so we can love others just like they are. And then enjoy a life lived with that forever, “Yes.”
Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. His email address is email@example.com. His Web site is davidbwhitlock.com.