The past two years, I have noticed a greater attention in the schools on bullying. Walking into my kids’ school, there is a large banner hanging in the hallway saying, “This is a bully free zone,” and another banner stating “Be a buddy, not a bully.” I wish we could make bully free zones where children would be accepting to others and stronger children would not prey upon the weaker ones. But in reality, can we truly achieve this?
If we are to be honest with ourselves, many of us have been on both sides of bullying. We have been victims of bullies and we have been bullies ourselves. Bullies are not simply the people who try to intimidate us to get us to do what they want, but there is a bully inside us, too. The bully came out with our younger siblings, when we told them what to do and when to do it. The bully comes out in marriage when a husband intimidates his wife (often using his physical strength or hurtful words) or when a wife criticizes her husband for not doing what she wants him to do. Bullying in all cases is not a “give me your milk money” kind of thing, but can be on different levels or extremes.
I remember a time in 8th or 9th grade when a classmate would “bully” me by using his strength and popularity in the class to give me a “purple nurple” (twisting a guy’s nipple until it bruises). Then, when a less popular classmate would try to empower himself by trying to do the same to me, I shoved him against the locker threatening him with force. I was bullied. Then I bullied. I was the weaker and intimidated. Then I was the stronger and the one who intimidated. Bullying empowers us to change others and get them to do what we want…and you know, often it works, but at the expense of another.
To bully is to “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Bullying involves fear and intimidation (often using threats of physical or emotional harm) to get others to do what we want. It stems from our sinful nature, the part in us that says, “I want what I want when I want it….and you need to do what I want you to do…or else.”
Often, we think that in order to be happy, we need circumstances to go as we want them to go. But because others are unpredictable and don’t always fall in line with what we want, we feel the need to influence them to do as we want. In other words, we try to control others. Other people, therefore, exist for our happiness or for our pleasure. We are the kings and queens of our worlds and our spouses, children, peers, congregations, coworkers, etc. are our subjects to do our bidding.
If we are to get rid of the “bully in me,” we need to go to the cross of Christ, seek forgiveness for our self-centered ways, and consistently make Him the center of our lives (not ourselves). Like Christ, we need to accept others as they are and not for who we want them to be (our subjects). It is impossible to love others as Christ if we only see them as our subjects to fulfill our purposes. Ed Welch, in his book When People are Big and God is Small, says, “we need other people in order to accomplish God’s purposes and most accurately reflect his unlimited glory.”
The bully in me says that I need people to make me happy. Christ in me says that I need people to reflect his glory. The bully in me says I need to control others. Christ in me says I need to be self-controlled to love others. The bully in me says others must do my bidding. Christ in me says I must do His bidding.
Though I applaud the schools getting involved more to stop bullying (It is needed!), I believe they will fall short as they only police behavior. In order to change the root cause (our sin nature), we must address the sin issue at the heart level and look to Christ to change us there. The result of such efforts will be Christ in us, Christ in the schools, and glory to God.