An old friend of mine posted a heartbreaking video on bullying this week on facebook. And in the comments one of his friends remarked about how different high school would have been if we could have all just been ourselves. The post and conversations got me thinking about bullying and the pain of high school. Not so much reflecting on my own experience but more about reflecting on my cluelessness.
I think I’m clueless because I don’t have any memories of my friend being bullied. All I remember is that he was such a nice guy. I remember that he wasn’t ever mean to me. I remember liking him so much and I just assumed everyone felt the same way. And I think that’s why there’s so much pain when you’re bullied. It’s usually completely undeserved. You’re just a person who doesn't fit the mold in some way and that makes you a target. For me, it was that I was tall and skinny and got good grades. (Or maybe it was because I was a nerd and didn’t know it—ha-ha) The other thing that I thought about was that part of what was so painful about not fitting in and being picked on is that it always seems like everyone is in on it but you. Everyone else is cool, everyone feels the way the bully feels about you. My cluelessness shows that this isn’t always the case. It makes me think that there were lots of times when I felt like everyone was in on some meanness when in reality most of the school was completely unaware of the target on my back.
Another friend posted the other day about her son being bullied. Kids are stealing his things, hiding his school supplies. Who knows why he’s the target. And the emphasis was on teaching our children to be kind. But teaching kindness isn’t enough. We can teach kindness until we’re blue in the face but without the ability to empathize, it falls on deaf ears. This takes me back to my cluelessness and the grief I feel about that. I feel like I’m a pretty empathetic person and this shows that I completely missed some big clues. So if empathy isn’t the key, and kindness isn't the key, what is? I don’t have a simple answer. I remember the pain of my daughter being excluded from a clique for the first time and all of these girls were kind, empathetic girls, one on one. They had nice parents who taught them the right way to treat people. But they still specifically excluded her. I’ve seen my son on both sides of the equation, being labeled or excluded because he didn’t fit someone’s idea of who he should be and I’ve also known how painful it is to watch your child single another child out as the object of his taunting. He was taught over and over that it was wrong. It was addressed every time it happened. Yet he did it anyway. And if I’m honest I know I’ve done it…I think most of us could remember a time when we joined the crowd and someone else walked away hurting.
Philippians 2:3-5 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." (NLT)
I was clueless about my friend being bullied because I was so concerned about myself. But beyond my selfishness there was one other part (just one—yeah right) part of Jesus’ attitude that I didn’t have and I think it’s absent every time we see cruelty or bullying. Jesus suspended judgment as he interacted with the world. Yes, he called people, especially the Pharisees, on their wrongs. But he knew everyone's heart and he could have walked around excluding everyone who was different from what he KNEW was right, but he didn’t. He decided instead to walk in love and embrace people right where they were at. He knew that this kind of genuine love can do far more than bullying can even pretend to accomplish. He didn’t hang out with a particular type of person; he had friends from every social group. He didn’t care what other people thought of him because of who he chose to hang around. I cared. The opinions of the very people who were mean to me still mattered. And this concern captured more of my attention and energy than what was going on in the lives of my friends.
I wish I knew of a simple way to teach this to children, but I don’t. I guess it needs to start with me. Really, it needs to start with all of us. I need to take my eyes off of MY life, MY issues, MYself, and really start seeing others with Jesus’ eyes. Eyes that are humble, full of love, full of empathy and full of compassion. I need to drop my attitude and take on Jesus’ attitude that only God’s opinion and priorities matter.
And to my friend, I’m sorry that I didn’t see when others were bullying you. If I could go back I would see with new eyes and be a better friend who was aware of what was going on in your life because you matter—both to me and to God.