In the past few weeks, two incidents have caught my attention. The first being the account of Stuart Chaifeitz, who after placing a recording device on his autistic son, realized that his 10-year-old was being verbally abused by aides in his classroom. The second was about a young man in Iowa who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. Fourteen-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr., killed himself as a result of death threats on his cell phone and being bullied by a Facebook hate group. Another Facebook group has set up a memorial space for this young man and one post commented, “Unfortunately, the culture most of us have been raised in has been the mindset that you get ‘picked on’ in school and that’s just part of growing up.”
As a parent, I am outraged by both events. Now, I am not naïve. I know that gang activity, rivalries and the desire to find one’s self-esteem at the expense of others, can produce an emotional environment of jealousy and anger. But bullying should not have to be part of any child’s life – especially in school.
In his recent book, The Time of our Lives, NBC Broadcaster Tom Brokaw wrote, “Now there’s a new form of injustice in schools across the nation: the anonymous taunts and vitriolic mocking designed to hurt and belittle a target for his or her adolescent awkwardness, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
“There have been bullies as long as there has been adolescence, but the Internet tools of videos, anonymous postings, and profane attacks have taken this ancient cruelty to a new level. It is an appropriate subject for parents, schools, communities, and grandparents to take up with the youngsters on the giving and receiving end” (p. 255). It is also an appropriate subject for this column.
What happened to common decency? Why is it so easy to judge others? As a writer on spirituality and health, I feel this issue needs the attention of everyone. Face it, we do not all look alike, act alike, or think alike. It is time to recognize that fact and respect our differences, as well as our similarities. Treating others with courtesy and deference is not old-fashioned or out of date.
My freshman year of high school was not an easy time for me. The school was out of control – I saw violence in the halls, drug deals in dark corners, and the smoking area outside wreaked of pot. There were no closed halls - everyone roamed where they wanted, whenever they wanted. It was chaos. One particular gang rambled throughout the school looking for someone weaker than themselves. They would follow them, get them alone and beat them up. One day I was their target.
That night amidst tears, embarrassment and complete lack of self-esteem, I turned to my Bible for comfort. What I found instead was shocking. These words of Jesus challenged me, “You have heard people say, ‘Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you” (Matthew 5: 43, 44). I couldn’t believe that was my answer – after all, I was the victim!
I threw the book across the room and turned off the light. But those words continued to haunt me until I realized that really was my answer. I needed to pray for this group. Anger, disillusionment and a lack of respect by others was what they were feeling also. I resolved to overcome my fear with love. It wasn’t easy. But one day they cornered me again. This time, as one of them punched me in the stomach, I actually felt no pain, just an overwhelming sense of love. The gang member looked at me puzzled, and then said, “Let’s get out of here!” and they took off. That was the end of the attacks on me.
I continued to pray for the school throughout the summer. The following school year everything had changed. There was a new administrator. The halls were clean, there were rules, and they were enforced. Halls were closed during class times, and the gang was no where to be found.
THINGS DO GET BETTER. Prayer is effective. I am praying every day for our schools and universities and for young people growing up in an internet age. Our schools, churches, and communities need to be places of respect and love for all. Let’s stop the bullying!