Bullying....it wears many faces and shows up in many unexpected places. In the present climate, high schools around the country are taking a closer look at bullying and the many subtle face it wears on the high school campus.
Unfortunately, it exists in varying degrees in far too many venues. More often than not, it is not confronted or addressed. There is the traditional high school bully who picks on kids smaller and/or weaker than him. It usually begins with name calling and teasing. Sometimes it escalates with threats of violence and abuse. Oftentimes they are not acted on, but the fear the victim lives with is unbearable. Some victims are attacked and further threatened if they tell.
Thus, in many schools the bully goes unchallenged because the victim is petrified to come forward. Some victims have been brainwashed that it is not cool to tell, that men don't "rat out," no matter what.
So many victimized teenagers live in fear and stockpile all these emotions until they explode. If they explode there is still no guarantee that they will tell the whole truth.
In recent times another despicable form of bullying has come to light in the form of hazing. Traditionally seen as a rite of passage or initiation, hazing is an experience that most young people choose to partake in because they want to belong to something.
Harmless pranks are one thing. Life threatening, abusive acts are another. No normal person would willingly submit to putting his or her physical or emotional life on the line. The hazing that went on at a high school camp last summer was unconscionable.
The subsequent stories that emerged of similar happenings around the country are equally disturbing. The hazing that goes on in many college communities is equally disturbing. Every year we read about senseless deaths that have occurred among pledges who were pushed to the edge.
The vow of silence that is associated with this recklessness, inhumane behavior is very troubling. Lives have been forever damaged and lost. Many surrounding these circumstances believe it is being disloyal to tell the truth.
Some who want to come forward with the truth don't for fear of the ramifications, harassment and potential violence that might follow. The recent high school hazing case is a good example.
Parents sometimes wrongly bully their children. Every parent has the right to call their son or daughter to higher standards. Depending on the age of the child, they have the right to exercise certain controls.
However, with one's older teenage and college age students, I think we need to walk a delicate line. We should not compromise our values or principles, but we should not become control freaks and attempt to manipulate our children's feelings and behaviors.
Growing up is a work in progress. We expect our children to make mistakes. As parents we try to protect our children from making serious mistakes. They need space to spread their wings and make certain choices and decisions, even if we don't like them.
Trust is key. Yes, it must be earned, but we can't bully them every time they want to stretch their wings. We can't try to hold them hostage because we have control of certain things like the car, the computer or the cell phone.
This kind of bullying is oftentimes masked with pious platitudes but can be very dangerous and even lethal when it comes to fostering a life-giving relationship with our young adult children.
The poor and needy are bullied by a system of social welfare that lies to the taxpayer and sets the poor up for failure and dependence on a system that at best is poor and inhumane.
Take a look at all the money we are spending on social welfare in Suffolk County. Ask the question, why are things not getting better, but on many levels getting worse?
The poor are the voiceless among us. They remain voiceless not because they don't want to speak, but because they fear sanctions and repercussions that will only further shackle them to a system that doesn't care.
In recent weeks another form of bullying has emerged and is coming from our pulpits. It is very troubling to see religious leadership in a particular tradition use their pulpit to bully political leadership from their religious tradition. To call them by name and threaten to deny them access to the foundation of their faith is both scandalous and inexcusable.
It seems to me that if you believe in God, the state of your soul is between you and God and not up for public discussion, especially by your regional Church leader.
Our religious leaders have a right and obligation to call their faith to a higher standard. They have the right to critique various political positions and clearly advocate their religious teaching on any issue. But they don't have the right to use their affect of power to bully and embrace members of their congregation who are political leaders.
It would seem more respectful and in keeping with most religion's code of ethics to have perhaps met privately with said elected official and discuss one's concerns privately rather than publicly threaten or attempt to bully this political leader.
In my religious tradition, Jesus says in the scripture "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I guess that Church leader missed that class in his theological formation.
My reason for addressing this issue in this space is that more than one church leader is exhibiting bullying behavior.
If we want our children not to bully, we need to show them how to act by our example.