Bully prevention begins with me (you). There is no amount of Walks Against Bullying, or Marches Against Bullying, or Protests Against Bullying that will make any bullied person feel less bullied, alienated, or hated. In fact, any public display of solidarity with bullied people is likely to make them only feel more alienated than before. These public displays are also intrinsically shallow and transparently fake.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to “un-bully” a bullied person. What’s done is done. No amount of legislation or social media band-wagoning will every change that.
This isn’t a macro-level problem fixable with macro-level solutions. These are very personal, intense, frequent traumatic experiences causing very real harm to very vulnerable individuals. Additionally, these experiences have long-lasting, chronic consequences in the lives of the bullied. To this day, more than 15 years since I last was bullied, I still have insecurities when people around me laugh, look at me, whisper, or do anything else that might suggest they could be making fun of me.
I’m a 33 year old husband and father. I’m a teacher. There are people who look up to me. There are people who lean on me when going through hard times.
Yet, I’m still occasionally effected by the actions of peers during my formative years as a pre-adolescent and adolescent.
Reflecting now on those times, I imagine that many of those bullies were (1) bullied by others themselves and/or (2) have developed friendships with other individuals who tend to bully others. These bullying individuals are likely making somewhat logical decisions. There is a reason for each action.
Why do people bully others?
If they were bullied themselves they may find the act of bullying others cathartic. It may act as a sort of release for whatever feelings they have boiling up inside as a result of their own experiences of being bullied.
Regardless of whether they’ve been bullied themselves, they might feel the need to bully in order to increase the bond they have with whatever group they feel they belong too. The need for belonging is strong and instinctual. If the environment we find ourselves in calls for us to bully in order to belong, and we do not have any other stronger competing environment characterized antithetical to bullying, then it is only natural (even rational) to assimilate yourself to that environment so long as the belonging you’re longing for is the reward for such behavior.
What, then, are we to do (if anything)?
I’m going to use some scriptures from the Christian bible as a foundation for the remainder of this post, but realize that such ideas are universal to mankind. I happen to be a Christian, and I find (as many people, Christian and not) these particular scriptures to be beautifully articulated.
I’ll start with what I believe to be the proper ultimate prime cause of all bad things, not just bullying.
Genesis 4:7 – “Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
The above passages involves God speaking to Cain. Notice the emphasis on doing what is right (or the lack thereof), as opposed to emphasizing not doing what’s wrong.
Cain, unfortunately for Abel, continued to focus on the wrong. Shortly after this conversation with God, Cain led Abel out to a field and murdered him. Rather than accept God’s advise, Cain chose not to focus on the right as spoken by God. As a result, he enabled himself to focus more and more on the wrong.
It’s clear that this situation applies to mankind as a whole, not simply followers of Christianity.
In relation to my above thoughts on bullying, for those who bully as a form of catharsis, this is analogous to Cain’s actions. He felt alienated because his offering to God was not received in the same manner as Abel’s. God saw his frustration and advised him to focus on doing what is right (implying that the nature of Abel’s offering was more acceptable, so Cain should offer likewise in the future). Instead of allowing himself to be guided by God’s advise, he ignored it and chose to marinade in his anger. Notice that God did not condemn Cain for his less adequate offering. Instead, he provided guidance.
Additionally, God warned Cain: “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.” God, knowing the nature of mankind, warned Cain that if he didn’t focus on doing what is right, he would be leaving himself open to increasingly sinful thoughts and actions.
For the sake of expediency, I’ll make this our first point:
1. An individual cannot bully if they are focusing on doing what is right. Alternatively, bullying is only possible when the bullier stops focusing on doing what is right.
I’ve now assumed that the core of bully prevention is in focusing on doing what is right.
What does it mean to do what is right?
Again, I will use Christian biblical scriptures as a foundation, but the principles are universal.
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love. Love is the right thing.
But what is love? If I need to focus on loving others, I need to know what it means to love others.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
The above scripture really says it succinctly and powerfully.
To focus on doing what is right, we must focus on extending love to all people (even our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”).
This brings us to our second point:
2. By focusing on extending the following to all people at all times, we will ourselves be incapable of bullying:
Patience, kindness, selflessness, honor, generosity, forgiveness, truthfulness, protection, trust, trustworthiness, hope, and perseverance.
Of course, this is all common sense. If we were all good people, there would be no bullying.
Common sense as it is, it is clearly not that common, or at least it is deceptively simply yet difficult.
And, of course, not a single on of us is perfect.
What, realistically, can we do?
Be as good as we can, as often as we can – hopefully more and more each day. Be honest with ourselves. Confess to yourself when you’ve neglected doing right when you knew better. Be better the next moment, the next hour, the next day. Bit by bit, we might not eradicate bullying, but we can surely reduce it to the best of our ability.
Remember, we are to extend love to everyone. Even those we might think of as enemies.
An essential part of bully prevention is probably the most difficult part (I know it is for me):
Loving the Bully.