Monday, December 20, 2010

Bullies

There is a lot on the news lately about bullies. Bullying is the problem du jour. Attractive celebrities make cool videos about bullying. We can hear our mothers’ voices in the back of our heads saying: “when you grow up, this will all get better.” Well, we are grown up.

We have grown up, and amazingly enough, the bully has grown up as well. Maybe the hair pulling has stopped, but the ability to inflict pain remains. The name calling has changed and taken on a new level of sophistication.

We are not being pushed off swings, but we are being pushed around. Bullies do not use their fists as much, but they still manipulate, control, and threaten. And we still feel frightened, belittled, and even demoralized.

All the experts say that bullies are cowards really, but a coward with power over another person is still dangerous. All the experts say that bullies have low self-esteem, but when someone is so low, they aim low blows. The question is still the same: what do we do when confronted by a bully?

My impulse is the same as third grade: run! Apparently, everyone else has the same impulse because those bullies still exist. My other impulse is to find a brick, wait for the bully to look away, and then brain the bully. Unfortunately, while that may be satisfying, it would probably lead to meeting more bullies in prison. So what do we do?

What do we do when we are confronted by a bully? What do we do when that bully is our coworker, a clergy person, a neighbor, a sibling, or a spouse? What do we do when our self-esteem is systematically being stripped away?

It is when we are being bullied that we feel the most alone. We feel powerless. Will anyone help us escape? Will anyone be able to stand up against the foe?

But that is what we have to do, isn’t it? We have to stand up against the bully. We have to stand up against the bully alone because no one else is willing or able. We, alone, may even have to withstand the bully’s blows. We must stand toe to toe.

We must stand toe to toe with bullies, wherever they are. We do not have to swing back, but we have to stand up. We must stand up even when we are vulnerable and weak and frightened of the blow to come. We must stand up even when no one else will stand up with us.

Will standing up vanquish the bully? Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the bully will stop. Sometimes the bully will pound in your skull. Most importantly though is that standing up will vanquish our inner bully who works overtime to tear down our confidence. And as those experts say, bullies like to prey on those who have low self esteem. As your confidence grows, so does your strength (and safety from bullies).

It is a wonder if bullies will ever eventually disappear. Can we train children out of bullying? Can we confront ever instance of bullying? Will bullying ever really go away? Or will the aggressor and victim just change positions? Will it get better?

I believe it will get better. We have an image of that time and place, where the lamb and wolf lie down together. The playing field is leveled and no one is left out of the game. It will get better when the victim and aggressor will sit together at the table in God’s peaceable kingdom. Until then…

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