Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Bullying and Shame

I didn't wear purple on Wednesday (primarily because the only purple garment I own is short-sleeved and the weather on Wednesday precluded such a wardrobe choice) but I understood the sentiment behind Spirit Day.

Bullying is a blight upon many of our lives.  Many of us live daily with the scars of it.  Some do better than others, some have healed, some still have raw open wounds in their souls.

I was a bullied child and teen.  My Junior High years were horrid.  And I bore those wounds (now healed-ish scars) well into my adult years.  The voices that told me I wasn't worth much at all kept me from growing until a counselor finally helped me put them to rest.

This morning I preached on the balance between pride and shame (I describe the balance point as realistic, honest humility).  Bullying is about lack of that balance.  The bullied victim is pushed to a place of shame.  And shame cripples, shame weighs us down, shame gutters the light of God that is within us.  In point of fact, shame can kill.  That is what Spirit Day was all about.  It was about standing shoulder to shoulder to those who have been told to be ashamed of themselves, in particular because of their orientation on this occasion.

But what do we do about bullying?  I really don't know.  The reality is that I was a good victim (and got to be a better one as the bullying continued and I became more pressed down and less sure of myself).  My counselor, as he pushed me to stop taking responsibility for what happened kept asking "where were the adults?".  This ties in well to the belief of school systems that they can enforce a bully-free environment in the school.  They can't.  All my bullying was school and schoolyard based and really there is only so much that can be done.  Most bullies aren't idiots after all, they know how not to get caught through a combination of timing and threats.

What we do is that we as children of God ensure that the people in our lives all know that they too are children of God.  We ensure that they know this makes them special and worthwhile and that they have no reason to be ashamed of being who they are.  In the end this is more important than the necessary disciplinary actions we take towards bullies.  We break the cycle of victimhood.  That is the only way to fight the bully.

And sometimes it means we hold a different mirror up.  When I took CPE my supervisor had been minister in my childhood church when I was 11.  Often during that unit she would say "this is not the person I knew, this is not who you are".  No I didn't believe her at the time.  But it was what needed to be said.  When we see people bearing the wounds of bullying we all have to say those things.  We all have to remind people who they really are.

May God help us to do so.

PS> as a lead in for this sermon I read You Are Special for children's time, and re-read the climax of it during the sermon.  The prize line is that "the stickers only stick if you let them".  As a bullied child I never would have believed or understood the wisdom in that sentence.  But now I do.

1 comment:

  1. The bullies I knew from childhood I realize as an adult were most often from violent abusive households, and to gain power victimized others who they perceived could not or would not retaliate, generally the kind, gentle and shy students.

    Schools can't fix this, but should realize the dynamics of what is happening in their schoolyards (and in the case of one of my friends every afternoon when he walked home from school) and educate all involved.