When I was 6 years old attending 1st Grade at Warm Springs Elementary School in Fremont, California, there was a little boy - skinny and odd looking. He walked funny and he was different. I truly cannot remember whether what made him odd was a slowness of mind or that he was highly effeminate - but I hated him. Without knowing him. I hated him because he was vulnerable and weak. And I joined the kids who laughed at him and talked behind his back. Once I remember that I stood behind him on my way to the cafeteria for lunch and thought to myself how easy it would be and how "rewarding" it would feel to kick him. Thankfully, I did not.
It is nearly 48 years since either of these two incidents have occurred, but over the years (and uncountable times) I have thought of these two children and prayed for them. And today I am shedding tears for my grave unkindness in thought and action toward them. God has forgiven me for it. I have even forgiven myself - but it does not exempt me from the consequences I bear from such cruelty, even at an early age.
Strangely, I am grateful that these old sins have continued to haunt me - because I believe it has given me a sensitivity to the suffering from bulling. In fact, I was bullied a great deal in my youth. Not so much in a physical way - but in a psychological way; one from which it is much harder to heal.
As a Christian, I understand that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength. The second greatest is to love your neighbor as yourself. We get this wrong all the time and it starts very young.
All kinds of explanations can be made for why we prey on one another. I couldn't give a damn about any of them. The fact is we do - and it needs to be addressed - and stopped.
My daughter has recently been the victim of bullying. But before I go any further, I will hasten to add that she has been a bully herself. And we often are left to reap what we sew. But at this age, most kids don't consider what they are doing to be bullying. There is a lack of understanding in their actions. There is a belief in the necessity of a kind of "behavior of power" for survival on the playground. There is an utter lack skill or capacity to articulate feelings or resolve conflict. And young people hold a mental picture of a big kid pushing a small kid. That defines bullying in their minds. We know that kids get physical with each other. Infinitely more common though are the times when they gossip. And they spread rumors. And they taunt with "secrets". And they practice exclusion. And they engage in "ditching". And they exercise a wielding of power. All of these practices are a terrible form of bullying and as I have said before, I know my daughter has engaged in this behavior herself. It is rampant in school playgrounds across the country. And it all goes largely unnoticed because of the shame associated with being the one being bullied as well as a fear that any intervention will only make matters worse. It is a secret. But it is an open secret.
Yesterday I picked my daughter up from school and saw that she was hiding behind a tree away from all the girls in her class. When she saw me she quickly came to the car and acted belligerently toward me. I knew something was up and had to threaten to call other moms to find out what it was until it all came spilling out - almost unintelligibly through the sobs and tears. Through gossip (spread in the name of being "truthful" - a justification for continuing gossip), rumor, "ditching" and exclusion, my daughter had been bullied. And I became enraged at the little girls who had driven my daughter to such despair. My initial reaction was to point fingers and judge those girls, to make accusations and to tell everyone I knew what terrible things had been done to my daughter so that they would stand united with me against those who had so maligned my baby.
In other words, my first reaction was to be a bigger bully.
I have spent the past 24 hours reflecting on this incident and realize, perhaps because I know the pain of being bullied myself, that it is often our reaction to deal with bullying by hiding or by overpowering. And there is no resolution in this. Not so easy is civil confrontation where we set aside anger and animosity. In fact, we hold dear our anger. We believe that it is our right. In fact, we behave as cowards.
It is the cowardice of parents that allows children who bully without understanding to grow into teenagers who bully for sport and adults who bully as lifestyle.
At nearly 54, I have to be one of thousands of parents who need to come out from behind that tree without a sword in hand. I need to live loving others as I do myself. And so with prayer for wisdom and courage - and especially for understanding and love - I am picking up the phone to call the other parent.