The bullying must stop

Bullying has to stop. Any and every kind of bullying.

Bullying is very much in the news at the moment, and should be. It has apparently resulted in the deaths by suicide of at least five young people under the age of 20 in recent weeks. Unknown is how many other young lives have been lost or are being made a living hell because of bullying by peers, and the enabling quiescence or tacit approval of those tasked with inculcating and enforcing society’s standards.

Bullying can be defined as sustained intimidation. The intimidation can take many forms: physical as shoving, hitting, beatings, systematic theft, or destruction of belongings. It can be psychological in the form of taunting, humiliation and being ostracized. Lots of times, it’s both. In its most virulent, overwhelming, and destructive form, it is electronic, cyber, using social networking media to disseminate its vile message of de-humanizing hatred — instantly and widely.

Recently, there have been tragic cases where bullying because of perceived or known sexual orientation has resulted in the deaths of Tyler Clementi (18), Seth Walsh (13), Billy Lucas (15), Asher Brown (13), and Raymond Chase (19) — all took their own lives in September.

Bullying is, at its core, an expression of weakness, with an awful and deadly twist. The weakness expresses itself, not in confidence building and personality development, but in attacking someone who is different, perceived to be weaker, less desirable, or less popular – like the overweight, the short, the less attractive, the bookish, the gay. The purpose of bullying is zero sum: to make the bully(s) more powerful by making someone else weaker. Persistently. Its perpetrators believe they become more “in” by pushing someone else “out.”

But this message is not about abusive peers like the two 18-year-olds, Dahrun Ravi and Molly Wei, who thought it was ok to violate privacy by surreptitiously webcasting Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, and a friend, an action that appears directly connected to Tyler’s suicide.

This message is about what Ravi and Wei learned or failed to learn about acceptable conduct in their 18 years. This message is about parents, schools, and churches / synagogues / mosques / etc. that failed to get it through their heads that difference is not deficiency, diversity is not undesirable, actions have consequences, and bad actions can lead to horrific consequences.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families devastated by the sudden snuffing out of the lives of their children before they really had a chance to thrive. We can do more, though. We can take up the fight against the root causes of bullying. The root causes are the enablers, those who in all the ways possible in a society make being different something to be punished, who condemn gay people in terms that rob them of humanity. Because of the influence they exercise over impressionable young people, religious, political and educational leaders bear particular responsibility to keep disagreement from becoming incitement to ignorant and dangerous attacks. That doesn’t seem to be happening widely enough.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of LC/NA, said, “Anti-gay religious bias must not be allowed to form a smoke screen which protects blatant bullying and harassment in the name of ‘family values’ and commitment to the Bible. Those who would threaten, injure, kill, abuse, or extort will lose their power if we unite with one voice to say ‘no more — not one life more!’ We must take our message of God’s radical and inclusive love into our churches and beyond to our streets and schools. The needless deaths and injury of these young people shall not be tolerated. The gift of their lives shall not be wasted. They were our children. May our grief for these few become outrage which turns us to action for the many more who are already suffering and will suffer. Doing nothing is no longer an option.”

Bullying is not part of the crucible of growing up, something that tempers the steel of one’s soul and personality, as if it was some perverse rite of passage. Tolerating bullying ought to be completely unacceptable to anyone who practices Christianity.

The board of LC/NA is currently discussing what concrete actions steps to take in response to this pressing concern. Meanwhile, here’s what you can do:

  • Let local religious, educational and political leaders know that you are opposed to bullying and in favor of vigorous prevention and enforcement efforts
  • Talk to your pastor or other educational leaders in the church to have them make bullying the subject of adult education classes, bringing in local expertise to speak on the subject
  • Make sure that all the young people in your reach know that they do not have to put up with bullying, that if they are bullied they should seek help, that they are neither alone nor powerless. Make sure they know they are loved and respected, and listened to.
  • You should take this subject seriously.
  • You should get others to take it seriously.