Some thoughts on bullying. Unfortunately, it’s been in the news a lot lately. Students committing suicide because they were bullied in some fashion. It’s sad. It’s despicable. It’s also preventable.
Over the past week I read the third leading cause of people ages 15-24 is suicide. Sometimes people call suicide a selfish act, but I think in a majority of cases with these students it isn’t. It’s about escape. Escaping the daily torment from people who taunt you because you’re gay, or wrestling with sexuality issues, or obese, or small, or young, or a different race, or believe something different, or poor, or dress differently…the list goes on and on.
When I read the various reports of students who commit suicide because of bullying, my heart seemingly breaks and becomes enraged. I’m also reminded of when I was younger and I was bullied.
I was a student at Dundee Elementary School. It was after my parent’s divorce, so at the time, it was just my mom, sister and I at home. Fourth and Fifth Grade. I don’t recall having any enemies before then. For some reason, one day this kid in the neighborhood started picking on me. While we were in the same grade, he was bigger than me. I was a bit chubby at the time. He was also older than me by a year, I believe. (I was one of the youngest in my class with a June birthday.) He taunted and yelled at me. Why? No idea. I just know that going to and from school was a living hell.
“You’re a loser!”
“You want to fight?!”
“You’re clothes are stupid!”
It was a constant barrage of insults (and much worse that don’t make the above list) that made the simple walk to school a nightmare. It was every day, every morning. He waited for me at the corner. When I got near he’d get in my face. He’d block my path. His friends with that were a grade older? They watched and laughed as he unleashed his verbal assaults whenever he first saw me.
I’d sometimes wait for other kids to walk by so I could walk with them. My thinking was the bully would not say anything to me then. Nope, he kept it up and would make fun of me for walking with someone else in hopes that he wouldn’t say anything. (I remember that distinctly because my plan was foiled.)
Did I ever consider suicide? No. Would I have done anything to escape that torment? Yes.
I came home one day, enduring another round of torment from him, and saw my mom home early from work. For some reason, I just lost it and started crying. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yeah right. You’re always told to ignore the comments, but as a kid it’s hard to do. Months of verbal torment was heaped upon me. You can try and ignore it, but it will eat away at you. Before I broke down that day, I never told anyone how it affected me. I didn’t think I should because I was suppose to “ignore it”, and even then I wasn’t sure who I could tell.
My mom called the school about the bullying. Their answer? Come to school early and avoid him. Okay. It made my interactions with him less frequent, but it didn’t address the issue. He was never called to account as far as I know. (I gauge this because he still bullied me when we did cross paths at school. Thankfully, we never had a class together.)
When did the bullying cease? It was right before sixth grade. My parents swapped custody of my sister and I so we could continue living at the same house. My mom moved out and my dad moved in. One day, I was outside my house playing with a friend, when the bully walked up to me. Another kid who is a grade older is with him. The bully starts his bullying again, verbally tormenting me. He is doing anything he can to provoke me. I try to ignore it. I see my friend trying to not be involved so he doesn’t have to endure it. I want to disappear. I feel alone.
All of a sudden, and this is my recollection, but the side door on our house seemed to explode open. My dad came barreling out in a dead sprint with fury etched in his face. He was going after the bully. He yelled at him, “You stay away from my son! I know who you are! I know who your dad is! You stay away, you got that?!” I’m surprised and awed and entertained. I’m surprised because I’m not being tormented anymore. I’m awed because someone is fighting for me. I’m entertained because I see the bully scared, panicked and sprinting to get as far away as he can from my dad.
My dad went back inside, my friend wasn’t sure what just happened, but I was smiling. Maybe it was relief, maybe it was satisfaction and seeing my tormentor get his comeuppance, but I think it was also hope. Hope that things were going to change.
The next time the bully and I crossed paths he tried to bully me, but it didn’t work. I knew I didn’t have to take it, and my response was the effect of “whatever”. I knew I had someone who would fight for me, and he knew that to. He never bullied me again.
A couple of different things from that experience I think about a lot.
First, all it took was one person to stand up to him to end the bullying. Yeah, it was my dad, but it was someone. We can, and should, stand up for people when they are unnecessarily bullied, abused and tormented. What that looks like when we stand up for people, I don’t know, but we shouldn’t look away. If we can do something, we should.
I think Christian students could really show the love of Jesus to their classmates in a tangible way by sticking up for classmates that are bullied. You see or hear someone getting made fun of because they are gay or they are of a different faith or something else? Step in. Be a friend. Show love. Make a difference. Christians shouldn’t trick themselves into thinking, “Well, I don’t agree with them so I won’t stick up for them.” Stick up for them. Show the love of Christ in a real way.
Second, don’t repeat the cycle of violence. I’m ashamed to admit that after I was bullied I said and did things that were not loving to other students. I know I hurt the feelings of a few students I grew up with. Why did I? Insecurity? Trying to feel strong? Scared? All I know is, there are a handful of people that come to mind that I was unnecessarily mean to when I was younger. When I finally saw what kind of person I was, from God’s perspective, my heart broke. Those I was disrespectful to at the time I started respecting. I tried to think of ways I could love and serve them. Those I was disrespectful to earlier, I prayed for them. Some I’ve apologized to.
You know the sad thing? The youth group I was a part of was fairly tight knit, yet we made fun of certain students in the group. For what reason? Because they were different, didn’t believe what we believed, had a “lower moral standard” (in our opinion), acted “gay” or any number of other things. Not one of my finer moments to say the least.
Third, forgive. This doesn’t mean you forget what occurred or minimize it. You do need to forgive. The bullying I endured occurred almost 25 years ago. At least once a month that guy who bullied me comes to mind. And unfortunately my first reaction, most of the time, is hate. I hate. If I don’t squelch the hate, a rage will fester inside of me. I then think about crossing paths with him and punching him square in the face. I want him to know who it is that just beat him. It is unmitigated hate. I have to tell myself to not hate him. I have to forgive him. I pray for him. I pray blessings upon him. I hope for the best for him. I don’t want to repeat the cycle. I also don’t want him to have power and influence over my life, my thoughts, my emotions. I pray for him. I forgive him. I move on with my life.
How can I forgive him? It’s easy when I think about all my sin and yet Jesus has forgiven me. Jesus will always love me. It’s contrary to being a Christian when you cannot forgive someone. That doesn’t mean we condone or enable sin, but we must forgive.
Someone once said I was a fool for forgiving someone who never asked to be forgiven. The person who said it to me was a pastor. If I am a fool, then Jesus is a fool as well.
So I forgive the tormentor of my youth. I forgive him often, and I will the rest of my life. I don’t mind, it causes me to pray for him. Over the years, as my heart has slowly changed toward him, I’ve often wondered what his home life was like that he’d lash out at me like he did. I wonder about the examples he had in his life. Was there something going on that caused him to act out in the way he did? Does it excuse what he did? No, but I do wonder what he was dealing with behind the scenes.
It’s a cruel world. If I was a student today it would be hard to escape bullying since it can happen via text message and/or social media. It’s why it’s more important to stand up for those who are being bullied.
I often pray for my boys that they are not bullies or are bullied. I also pray that will love and serve those who are bullied by sticking up for them.
Share the love of Jesus by standing up and stopping bullying when you see it. You may get made fun of as well, but the person you stand up for will be grateful. You’ll make a difference and bring light and hope to a person who has known darkness.