Have you ever woken up with a big zit on your nose? Or maybe having a bad hair day. Perhaps you had a cold and were embarrassed about sneezing or coughing in a public place. The reason some people feel self-conscious about these things is that they are afraid of how people might react to their zit, hair, or loud sneeze. Maybe we try to put make up to hide the blemish or wear a hat to cover our hair or just plain don’t go out so that no we don’t draw attention to ourselves.
Being around people, if we were worried about what we thought of us, would be exhausting – even terrifying. It would even be one thing if it was a temporary condition that we were worried about, but what if it was an everyday occurrence? We would be living in anxiety, and therefore we could suffer from other things like a lack of production, self-doubt, or even depression.
Probably everyone at one point or another has felt nervous or anxious about seeing someone who they just knew would make some comment about their appearance, personality, handicap, or whatever else. It isn’t pleasant. If asked, we could all probably think of at least one person who “bullied” us about something at some point. These experiences are etched into our minds because of the negative feelings they brought. They do not go away easily.
What we don’t tend to remember very well is the way we made someone else feel with our harsh words. Maybe it was meant as a joke, perhaps even out of love, but nevertheless, it was hurtful. It may have even been meant to be hurtful. These comments don’t always come from the schoolyard bully or the mean guy at work. The people closest to us sometimes say the most hurtful things.
I will address both the bullies and the bullied here. First, the bullies:
Do you hurt people on purpose? If you do, someone aught to explain to you that the problem lies with you, not with the people you are hurting. No one is perfect, including yourself. It is easy to pick out something wrong with someone else, but that is damaging to yourself. You should look inward and pick one of your own infirmities and work on that. If you are attacking the way someone looks or their socioeconomic status, please know that God may have very well put them in that situation or created them to look like that, so if you don’t like it, please feel free to express to the Almighty that you believe He made a mistake. If you don’t like someone else’s personality, don’t marry them. If you disagree with someone else’s beliefs, you can share your own beliefs in a non-threatening way, or else keep your beliefs to yourself. No one deserves to feel belittled because you have convinced yourself that you are superior to them. No one is better than anyone else – that is, until God decides at our judgment.
If your intention is not to hurt someone on purpose, consider these things: Even if you know best and are even in a position to correct another person, is the way your doing it effective, or does it just make you feel temporarily better? What is the basis of your criticism, the Gospel or your own opinion? The Book of Proverbs says, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8). Even Christ tells us to preach the Gospel, but if they will not accept it, move one (cf. Matt. 14:14). To correct someone takes humility so that it will be accepted out of love. St Isaac the Syrian says, “Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet.” We have to be sensitive as to what people are able to hear. God Himself is merciful and does not point out all of our imperfections because we would not be able to handle them.
Now I would like to address those who are bullied:
Your self-worth needs only to be defined by one person: Jesus Christ. He loved you and died for you. His love and acceptance should be more than enough for you. Only seek to please Him. The Prophet David said, “Do nut trust in rulers and in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 145:3 – LXX). People will always let you down – even the ones closest to you. This does not mean that you should not trust anyone, but do not let your emotional state depend on their words.
There are things about yourself that you cannot (or should not) change or be self-conscious about. If you find any truth in something someone said, humble yourself, accept the criticism, and thank the person. Even if they meant it for evil, God meant it for good (cf. Gen. 50:20). If you thank a bully for his or her criticism, you disarm them and take away any pleasure they might get from hurting people. Remember, Christ was bullied, and He was perfect!
Hate breads hate and love breads love. Punching a bully in the nose might stop him, but then you become a hypocrite. Most bullies become bullies because either they have been bullied or else their self-worth is so low that they inappropriately (and unsuccessfully) try to make themselves feel better at someone else’s expense. Praying for them is a better option than hating them. Hate hurts you, not them. Forgiveness helps you and grants you forgiveness from your Father, who is in Heaven (cf. Matt. 6:12). The cycle needs to end somewhere.
Bullying is not just a school thing. There are adult bullies, cyber bullies, political bullies, parent bullies, etc. Neither being bullied nor being a bully are a healthy way to live. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19), says St Paul. We, as a community, can stop bullying that is occurring around us, whether in school, at work, at the mall, online, or wherever it occurs. If we are not able to stop it ourselves, we can at least be a comfort for those who are being attacked. Remember our Lord’s words, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:53c). Let us use love, which can even conquer death.