Who is being bullied and who are the bullies?

This past fall we had dealt with a situation in which our young son was being bullied at school. It had been taking place for almost two months without our knowing. What we did know, however, is that his sweet and cheerful disposition had changed and he had become prone to sudden outbursts of physical and emotional rage. His behavior had become so extreme that we contemplated seeking professional help from a counsellor to try and learn why this might be happening. It was torturous to see him so unhappy and feel helpless in trying to understand why. He’s never been one for sharing his feelings in discussion, so it was very difficult to try and determine the root cause of this change in behavior.

In late October, our prayers of understanding why this was happening had been answered. We went to our scheduled parent-teacher conference and learned that on that morning a boy had written an unkind note about our son and had showed it to him in order to have him feel badly. We spoke with our son about this note and the floodgates opened. We discovered that this had been just one in a series of incidents that had been taking place almost daily. The cumulation of this behavior by this boy had caused our son to feel terrible about himself. We, with our son’s teacher, told our son that this behavior would change and that he could freely and openly tell us about these incidents going forward. While we didn’t realize it at the time, we noticed within that very week that our son’s cheery disposition was starting to return and his moments of rage had begun to diminish.

I’ve been more alert to bullying and its impact since this happened. I admit that I had read of teen suicides as a result of bullying in the past and had wondered ‘How could the parents not know what was happening?’, and – after having our son experience someone telling him repeatedly that he was worthless for two months and not know though knowing something was happening – I can say that I now understand how I understand how they could not have known.

Watching the news the past few weeks, I have seen examples of bullying take place in very public ways and it has been appalling to watch. A bully is defined as ‘A person who uses strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker.’ and the act of bullying is ‘Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.’

The most prominent example of this blatant bullying took place when prominent anti-bullying advocate, Dan Savage, founder of ‘It Get’s Better‘ (widely endorsed by the Obama administration) took the opportunity to use his pulpit at a teen journalism conference to speak horribly about the Bible and Christians who believe in the validity of sacred scripture. During a lengthy anti-Bible rant, Savage noted that

We can learn to ignore the bulls-t in the Bible about gay people.

He went on to refer to those who, offended by his behavior, got up and left by calling them names like ‘pansy-asses’. It is astounding to me that a young gay man who has been the subject of much name calling and criticism of his choices in life – so much so that he would start a foundation to speak out against it – would be so hypocritical to exercise the same behavior he abhors to a group of teens who thought they were coming to hear about journalism. Dan Savage has become the bully (we become what we hate?).

Sadly, this behavior is being exercised from the top down by our own President here in the US as ‘Obama for America’ had the audacity to publicize the names of donors to the Romney campaign whom they deemed to be ‘questionable’. The point here isn’t to discuss the merits of whether or not Romney has ‘questionable’ donors, or even to point out the hypocrisy of President Obama doing so when his own list of donors contains their own questionable characters (John Corzine?, Jeffrey Katzenberg? George Kaiser?), but rather to illuminate the poor example it sets for our children when the highest office in the land to abuse its position of power and threaten those who speak out (or donate) against it. Isn’t this considered intimidation of those weaker than the office of the President – which would be essentially everyone in the US.

I’ve been doing my very best to stay away from being political on this blog… I really have! Reading this story yesterday, however, combined with the revealing of Savage as a bully prompted me to write this today. The story reveals how the publishing of questionable and inaccurate materials on the Obama for America website about Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc. has cost Mr. VanderSloot significant business deals. Other articles regarding the matter indicate that Mr. VanderSloot is considering libel lawsuits – and rightly so. The first line of the article states

Here’s what happens when the president of the United States publicly targets a private citizen for the crime of supporting his opponent.

It is saddening that we would find ourselves with the individual occupying the highest office of the land speaking out against bullying, and then using the same tactics he criticizes in those who bully in an attempt to hold on to that office.

How can we teach our children the importance of respect for one another and treating those with whom you may disagree with dignity and respect if those who occupy prominent places in the media don’t do the same and exemplify that behavior? Its even worse when those who speak out against it turn around and do the very thing against which they speak.

Thankfully, there is always the opportunity to share with our children the idea that Jesus taught us loving others as He loves us.

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