The Standard March 11, 2020
Bullying is a serious, age-old problem, often depicted in movies and books by a larger student repeatedly picking on and taking the lunch of a smaller student or a stronger child out on the playground continually threatening to beat up a weaker child. Pitt County Schools resources for parents along with countless websites dedicated to educating and stopping this aggressive behavior spell out two things which must be present for actions to be considered bullying. There must be an imbalance of power and the harassment must be repeated. Two people on relatively equal footing having an argument, even if heated and regrettable, is not bullying. Two-way teasing amongst equals does not constitute bullying behavior. If the aggressor has more physical, social, economic or political power and persistently intimidates or abuses the target then that is bullying. A one-time isolated incident of someone attacking another is not. Some social scientists and organizations include a third component for the definition of bullying and that is hostile intent. Everyone agrees that bullying occurs when harassment, force, threats or coercion are repeatedly directed by a more powerful person or group to individuals who are less powerful in some way. The targets, like prey, are not able to defend themselves adequately. Bullying can be physical, verbal, relational or online (cyberbullying). It is a deliberate misuse of power usually intended to cause psychological, physical or social harm.
Having a person or group aggressively impose domination over you is understandably scary and can be devastating. School systems and outside organizations are working hard to combat this problem. Experts agree that we must be careful not to mislabel actions as bullying when they do not meet the criteria. If we dilute the meaning of the word then the seriousness of the actual problem is diminished. Children can be mean. Adults can be mean. We all have been mean to someone in our lifetimes. As parents, grandparents, teachers and friends we need to help children understand that disagreements and misunderstandings are sure to come. We will not get along well with everyone. Social slights will occur. All of us should expect some negativity in relationships, but certainly should not condone actions that rise to the level of bullying. Being left off of a party invitation list likely will take place. Being called an ugly name will happen. What should not occur is being a target of repeated harassment by a more powerful person or group. Children must be helped to understand the difference and to become resilient in the midst of the normal social rejections and negative words which are a sad reality of life but are not bullying.
Jesus was the perfect model of an anti-bully. He had the most power of any human being who ever lived, yet did not misuse it. In fact, Jesus made sure to interact lovingly with those who were routinely excluded. He showed us how to treat the lowliest ones with as much kindness and respect as the honored and powerful. If we have the ability, we should show the children around us how to stand up for the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. We should help give the voiceless a voice. Never should we belittle someone for their physical appearance or abilities. We should make it a habit to take up for the underdog.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:25-29) In the words of Jesus, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)