October is National Anti-Bullying Month. Of course, it is also National “Adopt a Dog” Month, “Auto Battery Safety” Month, Dental Hygiene Month, Dinosaur Month, Dessert Month, Disability Awareness Month, Popcorn Poppin Month, Youth Against Tobacco Month, Fire Prevention Month, and my personal favorite: National Clergy Appreciation Month. This actually only scratches the surface. For a more complete listing you can look here: http://123child.com/act/oct.html.
But I digress, because I want to say a word about bullying. Quite a bit of attention has been paid to the topic lately. And rightly so because there are a lot of angry and mean people in the world and any amount of bullying is unacceptable. Two stories were making the news rounds and I thought they illustrated two different ways of dealing with the issue, one very effective and one less so.
First, in Lacrosse Wisconsin a TV Newswoman was sent an anonymous email criticizing her obesity. The email, essentially a private communication, suggested that her undisciplined behavior and obese appearance was setting a bad example to young girls in the area since she is a well-known public figure. I think that is a really stupid and insensitive email to send. It also betrays an odd personality type, and character flaw by its sender that is frankly unsettling, but I am not certain that it is “bullying” to receive a politely worded, though insensitive private critique via an email from a stranger. (If so, I have been bullied on many occasions). But either way, the response of the reporter and her husband, also an employee at the TV station, was to immediately play the victim card. She took to the airwaves, found a way to identify the email sender, and issued a four minute editorial condemning the bully and bullying in general. As mentioned, I think it was a “jerk” kind of an email to send, so I feel no great sympathy for the poor, flab-offended schlub, but at its core, bullying is the inability to feel or act with compassion. So is taking to the TV airwaves to use your “bully- pulpit” really the way to change the climate around bullying? I kind of doubt it.
Another story played out this week. A young girl in West Branch, Michigan’s was an apparent victim of bullying when “mean girls” at her school nominated the sophomore for homecoming court. She won election to the court, but then was made the butt of jokes as students told her it was done as a prank, setting her up to be an object of ridicule. But the response to the incident in Michigan was completely different from the offended parties in Wisconsin, and I thought some great lessons were on display by both the offended party, her name is Whitney Kropp, and the adults in town. Instead of shrinking into the shadows or lashing out in a violent tirade, Whitney embraced her situation and stood her ground, enjoying every moment of Homecoming Court. Instead of a public witch hunt to “out” the kids that had nominated the young girl, the adults and parents in Michigan actually acted like adults. The grown ups in town showered her with compassion and support, even declaring a day in town when the adults would all wear Whitney’s favorite color, orange t-shirts, and the school used the events to speak out against bullying.
How can we, as believers help our kids deal with bullying??? First, we can act like grown-ups by modeling calm, and maturity when our kids experience their inevitable peer conflicts. Sometimes the adults are the biggest problem when their kids have suffered an injustice. Our thirst for retribution can be insatiabe, but what lesson is being conveyed?
Secondly, we can teach and model compassion. Ultimately, bullying is the inability to either feel compassion for a weaker person, or at least enough compassion to act on it in front of our friends. I am thinking of one of my favorite New Testament stories out of the Gospel of John. In John chp 8 a poor woman caught in adultery is dragged in front of Jesus by the power brokers of the day, and used as a pawn in the religious leaders attempt to ensnare Jesus. It is bullying on a capital scale. The male in the scandalous affair is never mentioned. Jesus’ famous response is, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Everyone of us knows what it feels like to be the weak one, the one caught in sin, or the one on the outside of the circle of power. Jesus refused to use this opportunity to “pile on” or to gain favor with his enemies at the woman’s expense. He managed to get people to see her humanity, or at least their own, which might in itself be considered one of his finest miracles. Now, if we could figure out how to convey that message, and do so with the wisdom and humility that Jesus shows in John 8, bullies would not stand a chance. I hereby declare October, National “Love Like Jesus Loves” Month! Do I have the authority to do that?
And the truth shall set you free