Whenever the subject of bullying comes up, most people automatically think of kids, playgrounds, and sports fields. They don’t automatically think of adults. And they certainly don’t think of football players, business executives, or parents. But maybe they should.
Adult bullying made the headlines this past October when Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin left the team after claiming he was the victim of bullying by fellow teammate Richie Incognito. Despite evidence to support Martin’s claim, players throughout the league expressed support for Incognito, accusing Martin of breaking the locker-room code, and saying he should have been able to stand up for himself. But does any of that make it OK? Whether it’s a 200-pound football player or a 90-pound student, bullying is never OK.
I’ve heard the arguments that kids these days are too sensitive, that bullying has always been around, and that kids need to learn to deal with it on their own. But if there is one kid who can’t deal with it, then what?
According to a study by Yale University, victims of bullying are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide than are nonvictims. Statistics reported by ABC News show that nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.
Searching for Answers
Numerous programs have been put into place to counter bullying—most aimed at younger people. In fact, if you Google “bullying programs,” you will get 60 pages of programs, tips, stories, and commentary on the topic. All of these programs are genuinely searching for answers to this. Yet it still continues.
If you asked adults if they were bullies, most would probably say no. But they might not think twice about telling a mean-spirited joke or pulling a prank at someone’s expense, all with the disclaimer that it was just in good fun. But that rationalization doesn’t fly. Kids are acting on what they see.
Parents are notorious for attacking referees at sporting events. Or perhaps they carelessly rant about a variety of people in front of either their own children or others. On the work front, someone can talk about a coworker behind his or her back, leading to rumors or harassment. What if bosses or fellow workers continually demean or demoralize an employee? How about when people spew racial slurs and hatred? Isn’t that all bullying? Such actions go against the very foundation of our faith: that God created and loves every one of us, weak or strong.
What to Do?
I’m not naïve enough to think that bullying will go away overnight. But perhaps if we change our mindset, we can make some headway.
During a visit to a homeless shelter in Rome last May, Pope Francis spoke of the dignity of the human person: “To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, the face of Jesus.”
Stop and take some time to remember that each of us is made in the image of God. Next time you think about demeaning someone else—especially in front of others—stop and remember that. Maybe we should start from the bottom up. While we may think of bullying as an epidemic among young people, it’s not. They’re learning it somewhere. We all could benefit from a long look at our own behavior.