Bullying is not often associated with Christian people, sadly however, attempts to gain abusive power over others exist in all societies, whatever their expressed ideals.
Bullying is defined as “ repeatedly and intentionally using negative words and actions against a person, or group, to cause stress or physical harm”. It can be physical, verbal, social (spreading lies and rumours), psychological (intimidating, manipulating, stalking) and the latest one,cyber bullying through use of technology.
Four markers of bullying are:
- Intent to harm
- Imbalance of power
- Threat of further aggression
- Terror caused to the victim
Bullying affects not only the victim but the bully,and those standing by witnessing the event. The victim suffers shame, fear,often physical harm, and may develop mental health problems. Their work suffers, they may turn to drugs and alcohol for solace, and in an extreme case, may contemplate or attempt suicide.
The bully may potentially become involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour later on. 60% of 13 – 16 year old bullies have at least one conviction by the age of 24.
Witnesses suffer anxiety and fear they may be the next target. They become morally complicit by not doing anything, and it becomes harder for them to stand up against the injustice later on.
Witnesses are involved – there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.
Why do people bully?
Bullies often come from homes where there is strong physical discipline. They resent authority, and dominating those perceived as weaker than themselves, makes them feel powerful.
They lack the ability to empathize with others and are most concerned about there own wants and needs. Most of the time they believe they are not doing anything wrong and justify their actions by blaming others. “He started it”. “She was asking for it”. “They did....” etc.
They view the weaker people as “prey” and project their own inadequacies onto their victims. They love an audience and crave attention.
Who are the victims??
Anyone can be bullied, but particularly those whostand out in any way – the newest, youngest, shyest, someone from a differentrace or culture, looks different, or has a marked physical or mental disability.
Why don’t they speak out?
They may be ashamed of being bullied or scared of retaliation, they believe no-one can do anything, and that you shouldn’t “dob”.They may not have the skills to stand up for themselves.
What about the Bystanders?
In some case, bystanders may support the bully. It is entertaining, or the bully may be able to convey status or rewards(particularly in a work situation). They may be afraid that if they speak out they will become the next target. In many cases they simply do not know what to do.Bullying exists in all social arenas. In schools it has been linked to trauma, absenteeism, failing grades and suicide. Anti-bullying programs focus on increasing children’s resilience by teaching friendship skills, speaking out, and explaining the difference between reporting unacceptable behaviour and “dobbing”.
Parents are advised not to rush in to solve the problem, or to instruct the child to avoid the bully, or to encourage them to fight back. They are to intervene by showing children that something can and will be done, and talk to the school about the problem.
Remember the 3 “R’s –
- Recognise bullying
- Report bullying
- Refuse bullying
It is reported that 1 – 5 people are bullied in the work place and that there is only a 7.7% chance of stopping the bully by talking to them. Although all states in Australia have anti-bullying policies in place, they mostly lack authority. How, for example, can one go to one’s manager, when the manager is the bully? Sometimes the only solution is to leave, unless you are very resilient and confident in standing up for yourself.
Bullying in the Church
We don’t like to think about this one, after all, how can professed followers of Christ act like bullies?
Gerald Arbuckle, in his book “Dealing With Bullies” identifies an organization that is inherently vulnerable to bullying as one where “people are expected to fit into a tradition – based system”.
Unfortunately when bullying does occur, church communities can compound the abuse, when it fails torecognise the damage to the victim. There can be pressure to “turn the other cheek” and a focus on ‘forgiving’ the bullying as… the Christian way. There can also be a feeling of obligation to protect the community from harm and scandal. So, like perpetrators of other forms of abuse, the bully has the perfect environment in which to exert power free from judgment or sanctions.
To combat this we need to recognize that bullying does occur in all areas of the community, and that it is wrong and unscriptural.
- We need to identify and name bullying when we see it.
- We need to cultivate respectful assertive ways to disagree, while also listening to others.
- We must encourage all to use their influence to build up rather than to control or intimidate others
Luke 6: 27-36