Bullying: A Change in Focus

Josiah, 4 years oldThe word “bully” has a lot of buzz currently (so much that the word is even misused- see here to read more on that). There are a lot of websites, programs, and campaigns dedicated to addressing this serious issue. The ramifications of bullying can be devastating, even deadly. The anti bullying campaign has raised a great deal of awareness, and undoubtedly saved lives. People have been provided with resources to reach out for help, and a very important topic has also been lightly touched on- self worth. In my opinion, this is the topic that needs further attention and deeper exploration.

So much of our current culture aims to fix things that are outside our realm of influence. I believe that we could see a positive shift in our society if we stopped beating down other peoples’ choices, and started deeply dissecting our own. In addition to dealing with the aftermath of a dire situation, what if we looked into the root?

I believe humans are wired for connection. Some need more than others; we have varying personalities, needs, and wants. But people need people. There’s something about that need that has the power to build us up, or break us down. When our need for connection is met with hurt, abuse, or neglect, damage can occur.

I don’t have any academic or medical accolades to boast. My observations come from personal experiences, and many years volunteering with teens. From what I have seen, there are generally three types of responses to being hurt:

  1. Isolation. We shut down. We fear. We hide. This response cuts us off from connection.
  2. Anger. We want to retaliate. We want justice. We might seek some form of revenge. This response can lead to unhealthy connection.
  3. Communication. We seek help. We know who we are, and our value, despite the hurt. This response leads to deeper connection.

I cannot control bullying. I CAN control MY response.

In situations of harassment, bullying, or an altercation, we may have multiple responses, with varying degrees of each. Is it okay to feel angry? Is it okay to be alone for a time? Certainly. It can be healthy and beneficial to allow ourselves to feel, to hurt. What we do next can be the difference between a life of joy, or a life of despair. If we isolate, and choose to stay isolated, we are cutting off an essential human need. We may become depressed, alone, hopeless. If we choose to direct our anger to retaliation, we feed the beast. We become what angered us. Our connections become hostile. If we communicate, we don’t lose sight of our value. We don’t get lost in the abuse. We confirm that our identity is NOT determined by others.

I believe that connection is something that starts from birth. When a baby cries, another human responds- but how will that person respond? Those early responses to our cries begin to shape us. Will our needs be met, or will we be neglected? From our first breath on this Earth, we are taught to trust or to fear. To feel loved, or to feel alone. To see our value, or to lack purpose. As people sharing this experience and space on Earth, we are all called to respond. Hurt has no age, gender, racial, or religious boundaries, and neither does healing.

So, what about the bully? We talk so much about what we are against, and so little about what we are for. Herein lies my passion. Each person has a purpose. Each person has the capacity to make a unique and valuable contribution to society. When we aren’t connected, we lose sight of that value. WHY do people bully? So much energy is being poured into being against this behavior, we don’t acknowledge that it is most often fueled by hurt, pain, anger, abuse, neglect, or misguidance. Someone who is bullying is SOMEONE. A PERSON. That person, that unique individual, is wired for connection. What happened? Is the behavior acceptable? No. Is there an excuse? No. But an explanation? I believe so, and I believe it should be addressed. The victim of bullying isn’t the only one who needs help.

Each person should feel equipped to respond to hurt with communication. If that wasn’t instilled from a young age, it can take time to learn how to find and build healthy connections. You cannot control other people. You can control you. My feelings might get hurt. Someone may harm me. I might experience harassment or bullying. But there are no people, no words, no actions, no LIE that can shake the truth that has been instilled in the depths of my being. I am valuable. YOU are valuable. Our value is worth guarding and affirming. If you need help, seek it. Get counseling. Speak up. COMMUNICATE.

So what do we DO? Actively seek what you are for.  What are you passionate about? I am PRO-LOVE. I am PRO-STRENGTH. I am PRO-EMPOWERMENT. Knowing what is important to you can help identify how you can build others up. When you find your purpose, your passion, you find confidence- and it is contagious. Don’t underestimate the power you have to change someone’s life. Be there for someone. Listen. Love. Reach out. Speak life-giving words into the hearts of your peers. Your parents. Your children. Your neighbors. The lady in line at the grocery store. Don’t be silent. Compliment. ENCOURAGE.

I believe there is an antidote for bullying, and the negative aftermath. Let us shift our attention from what others are doing wrong. Don’t just be against something, stand FOR something. #PROCONFIDENCE