Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Bully Problem (Part 1)

If there is one doctrine of Christianity that enjoys empirical provability it's the doctrine of total and universal depravity. People are just evil at heart; or as Derek Web puts it, "We're all crooked deep down." This plays out from the earliest ages. By God's grace, not all develop as badly as we could. Nevertheless, it is when goodness happens that God is to be thanked. When evil naturally springs out of the human condition, nothing should be surprising. We're all so crooked deep down.

Unfortunately, one of the ways this plays out is through the predatory instincts of bullies. There is no age limit on them. Bullies reveal themselves in both preschool and the boardroom. However, we tend to use the term "bully" more with children in high school or younger. Regardless, adults too exude the same behavior all the time. It's predatory. It's primal, and it's far beneath the level of humanity intended by Christ.

I say that it is predatory because bullies' behavior so parallels any given nature documentary one might watch regarding "lions of the Serengeti," or Timber Wolf packs' hunting caribou. The predator seeks to feed off the week, slow or sickly of the herd. They watch to see which of the herd may be a "good mark:" that specimen that requires the least effort to capture and feed on. Criminals of the street, rapists, muggers, etc. all operate on this principle. They have little to no regard for the well being of others. They have one concern - to satisfy their own craving. In the wild, that craving may be the legitimate survival instinct to avoid starvation, and provid food for their young as well.

In people, this is not legitimate. Christ is the only accurate expression of humanity there is to follow. If someone wonders what was intended by the garden, they have but to look to Christ for that answer. Therefore, bullies are giving themselves over to depraved predatory instincts that considerably diminishes their humanity. In like manner, they seek to de-humanize the victim as well by transforming them into prey (instead of a fellow human made in God's image). Therefore, the dilemma regarding bullies is: how to respond to them in a manner that preserves one's humanity?

This is such a difficult task. On one side of the response is that body of advisers that prescribe only peaceful solutions. "Avoid the bully." "Use the buddy system." "Tell a teacher." "Don't fight back." These are good goals to pursue. Certainly one feels much more human when they have solved a bully problem without seeming to descend into the realm of Darwinian naturalism that the bully is seeking to be dominant in. I think it can be universally agreed that peaceful solutions are preferred above others, and are rightly first to be prescribed to the young bully victim.

However, what solutions are to be explored when the bully does not respond to the preferred ones? When avoiding the bully doesn't work because they have discerned your others routes to class or home? When buddies nearby also feel powerless to deter the bully, thereby becoming reluctant witnesses to continued abuse? When teachers are so taxed with diverse demands that the bully has learned to strike when they are distracted? Or when the bully has learned that the victim also feels powerless to defend themselves because of adult advice not to escalate the incidents? Is there ever a time when the peaceful solutions are rightly considered exhausted?

The dilemma is heightened by the perception that Christ modeled and taught pacifism. He, himself did not fight back when wrongly condemned to the Cross. In addition, it is thought by many that Jesus teaches pacifism in Matthew 5:38-39. While application of these truths will certainly find expression in the life of a believer, it is a stretch to suggest that victims must succumb to the de-humanizing effects of bully attention. Stronger biblical support is necessary to argue for people (young and old) being reduced to the existence of the "slow gazelle." Far from being the weak, slow and sickly of the pack, Christ modeled the controlled strength that is summarized by the term "meekness." In John 10, Jesus asserts that he had power to lay down his life and take it back up again any time. How does this model victimhood? It doesn't.

Nor, however, does it model exact techniques necessary for dealing with bullies either. I would submit that no biblical passage exactly prescribes a course of action for the victim. It this we must rely on the wisdom for living supplied by God that covers those areas not addressed in Scripture. Yes, such areas exist, and dependence on the Spirit for wisdom in such categories is vital. I submit that dealing with bullies requires wisdom. Wisdom is prescribed repeatedly in Holy Scripture; wisdom that is laced with temperance, respect and self-control. If anyone lacks wisdom, they should ask God for it (James 1:5). Sure one risks having a response to which you can't attach a proof-text, but it may very well equally please God to rely on the Spirit in this way.

Regarding the bullies that my children find at school or that we find at work or in church, may God grant the wisdom to break them out of their predatory behavior while retaining our humanity in the process.

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