The Other B Word

· Bullying. Because the hardest truth is the one we must tell. ·

March 7, 2017

Once upon a time two sisters moved to a new city. They were twelve and fourteen. Their new city was a land of foreign prairies and sprawling freeways, wide and open spaces. Being Mormon, they attended their new red brick church house, hoping to make friends. They were met with kindness from many, but from two girls in particular, nothing but contempt.

Over the course of weeks and months, ugliness overrode everything else. The sisters got the message.

 

Eww, you’re from Utah? Gross.

Just leave. Get out of here. Go away.

You wear the same clothes all the time. Don’t you have any clothes?

I don’t like you. I just don’t like you.

Do you even have friends?

 

These are some of the very texts and words they received from bullies. I know because the two sisters are my daughters.

As a result, my girls don’t feel welcome at church. Some of their bright light has dimmed. Sure they have friends, just not church friends, the very place friendship should flourish.

Bullying. Why does it happen? And why my girls? Because they were new? My girls are thoughtful and fun to be around. They have smarts, sass, and style. They are honors students who play the piano and violin, win art competitions, kayak and ride four-wheelers, hike and love sushi. Why can’t the bullies see this?

Not long ago a girl in Texas killed herself because of cyber bullies. Brandy Vela is more than a statistic, she was someone’s daughter. But bullying is not going away. Each year countless teens take their own lives due to bullying.

As kids become more wired, social media is just another playground for trolls. What can parents do? For starters we can initiate discussions and advocate for stricter anti-bully rules and laws. We can model healthy friendships, online and off. We can discuss social media in our families and help our kids balance that with real life goodness.

 

“I didn’t want to use the wrong words…I waited. I’m still not sure that it was the wrong move or the right move, that is, whether to choose language or silence.”

Elie Weisel

 

The weight of words can linger, cut quicker than we can know. If you’re being bullied, Speak. But if you’re a bully, consider silence as a Great Alternative.

 

They can be like a sun, words.

They can do for the heart
what light can
for a field.

–St. John of the Cross

 

We know this, words can make or break someone. We can ask ourselves, Is it kind? Is it necessary? The challenge is to be the sun, bring the light. Always.

 

“When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”

–Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves

 

When it comes to bullying, it is often about power. And words scattered all around us. Bullies control the narrative, overwrite the story. This infuriates me. Who gave bullies the permission to write my daughters stories for them? To create a false narrative? To so shape their lives? And then, as the fall out occurs, step away in mock modesty, spinning the scenario, “What’s wrong with your girls? They are So Shy.”

No, that’s not it at all.

My daughters have been made, repeatedly, to feel unwelcome. Their clothing, their actions, their personalities have been ridiculed.

A friend suggested we move. We’re working on it, except that bullies exist everywhere, in different forms. So we are learning to bring it: to be the change we want to see. Talk about it. Address the issue with the bullies and their parents. Avoid cringing. Write this. Smile. Persevere. Forgive. Breathe. I don’t know if bullying is truly solvable because we can’t change people. But we can change ourselves, we can choose our reactions to any given situation.

And this:

 

The greatest form of charity may be to withhold judgment.”

Jean Bingham

 

Both girls who bullied my daughters have families with their own challenges. It can’t be easy for either of them. But my hope is that they learn to change: to pause, to think before bullying, to stop.

Time helps us make sense of challenges, helps us realize if an experience is a nick, bruise, or scar worth wearing or better let go. Hopefully we’ll heal OK, better educated, better equipped for next time.

For the past year our wounds have been closing but they are still festering at the edges. Because when your kids are bullied, invariably you are, too. Because I’m a mama-bear, deeply concerned not just for the hearts, resiliency, and strength of my own daughters but for that of all daughters, everywhere.

Instead of focusing on the differences and perceived flaws of those around us, we can see others as God does: extraordinary, even whole.

Have you ever encountered bullying? How did you react? What was the result?

2 Comments

  1. Teresa TL Bruce

    March 7, 2017

    I’m so sorry your daughters (and you) have experienced this sad condition that ought not to be, especially among the household of faith. When my daughters faced the perplexing, hurtful slashes of bullies in their generation, my first instinct was to bristle in mama-bear mode. I echoed for them the gentle counsel/admonition of my mother’s example to me.

    First, Mom listened to my sobs. She heard me. Then, after I’d settled a bit, she quietly quoted from Matthew 5: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

    It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but I couldn’t persuade her the Savior knew nothing about bullies, could I?

    Reluctantly, I did as she — and He — said. Initial prayers for my bullies lacked gracious faith (“Bless her to leave me alone”). Over time, begrudging, rote pleas softened, and while on my knees with eyes closed in prayer, my inner eyes opened. I — eventually — saw glimpses of my tormenters’ pain. I even began (at times) to pity them.

    Meanwhile, I felt my own soul-self strengthened. The sting of their words and deeds pierced less deeply, even when their aim improved.

    My mom did intervene when called for — like the time a boy (two years and one grade older than I) punched and knocked the wind from me. (Come to think of it, I probably should have told her — or a teacher — about the girl who pushed me –leg brace and all — down a stairwell …)

    Hindsight tells me she may have made other phone calls I didn’t know of, because a few times she invited one or another of the mean girls from church to come with us to the mall or out for ice cream. (One on one, they acted civilly — almost nicely.) Mom also drove miles out of her way (and comfort zone) to allow me to spend time with girls in our far-flung stake who showed sincere kindness. She did all she could to give me opportunities to strengthen positive relationships with them.

    Even now, it’s still not easy to “pray for them which despitefully use” me. It doesn’t magically make them behave in nicer ways. But doing so helps me (when I remember!) to plant my heart closer to the side of peace than elsewhere.

  2. eljee

    March 9, 2017

    I have been lucky that so far none of my children have experienced bullying at church, nor did I as a child. I do have one daughter that I worry about, however. She has ADHD and anxiety and struggles behaviorally, and I’m keenly aware that her differences and lack of maturity–and the fact that she is homeschooled–could set her up to be a potential victim in the wrong circumstances. We are lucky right now that we moved from Utah to a small and somewhat isolated branch where everyone bands together. There are so few children and youth that everyone wraps their arms around everyone. We have a family in our branch that experienced bullying and ostracism in another ward. They are a rather unique family and definitely don’t fit the mold, but I know they have found love and acceptance here. We are most likely going to be moving in the relatively near future, and I do worry greatly about my daughter and how she will be accepted in a new ward, especially moving into Young Women’s here in another year or so. I guess all I can do is pray that we will land in the right place with the right people.

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