First published in Eternity Newspaper On-Line July 8 2013
FOOD FOR THOUGHT | David Wilson
Talking to a friend last week, she told me about some bullying she was receiving in the workplace. She got a very threatening email from someone she works with and it was pretty hard to take.
On the way into the office this morning, there was a cement truck (much bigger than my car) and a cement truck driver (much bigger than me), who thought that the part of the road I was on belonged to him. With some rather bully-like tactics, he let me know that part of the road was his and he took it. I was very happy to let him have it, taking into consideration all of the factors, but I felt bullied. Not a nice feeling.
Over the weekend there was an article in the press about domestic violence and the terrible effects it can have on the whole family. It is heart wrenching stuff to read and so obviously a serious case of bullying. In the article, journalist Jill Stark tells the story of one abused family and the impact the father’s bullying had on the children in particular. The story has a positive ending, but the pathway through abuse and finally to wellbeing is hard to read without becoming angry that such abuse can go on in our communities.
Stark correctly points out that the child is at an ‘increased risk of mental and physical health problems and cognitive impairment in adulthood’ which leads to the ‘trans-generational consequences of family violence, abuse, neglect, economic hardship and parental mental illness and drug and alcohol problems’ compounding over time. She quotes from Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation: ‘So in the future what we’re going to see when these kids are adults is a lot more anti-social behaviour, a lot more violence and aggression and social problems. We’re going to have to deal with the cost to the community of that increased level of violence that arises from children who haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to regulate their emotions’.
The message is clear when it comes to family violence as illustrated in Stark’s column. When a child is exposed to a parental figure that doesn’t control emotional outbursts, that child doesn’t learn to control his or her emotions. And what about other contexts where the child is exposed to uncontrolled emotions? What about movies, xbox, social media, parliament? If a child or young person experiences uncontrolled emotions in varying contexts of life then bullying is reinforced as a way of life. The victim becomes the abuser!
In one of the research projects that Sophia Think Tank is currently running, the topic of youth suicide has been prevalent. We’ve found that bullying on Facebook and other forms of social media has had a major part to play in suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviour. The consequences of bullying can be horrendous.
We are all subjected to bullying in our communities and across the various contexts of our daily lives. Some instances are pretty easy to take for most of us—like my ‘friendly’ cement truck driver this morning. Some are much harder—like my friend’s email at work. Others are terrible, with lifelong consequences such as the family abuse Jill Stark talks of.
At the root of all bullying is an abuse of power. We see this in the playgrounds of our schools, on the late night streets of our major cities, along the roads in our communities, and in the abuses of social media and family violence. What wisdom from the Bible can be seen to be addressing this problem?
The Prophet Micah from Moresheth (near Jerusalem), in the 8th Century BC, proclaimed this: ‘Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance’ (Micah 2:1-2).
Micah is condemning people who lie awake at night plotting how they can use their power for their own benefit (bullying) and then wake up and do it, because they can. Micah says God is very angry about abuse of power and that judgement is coming against such bullying behaviour. But, as always, the Prophet has a message of hope for the community. They are horrified at the prospect of judgement and so they ask Micah what they can do about it. They come up with some of their own ideas such as more sacrifices or more costly sacrifices (Micah 6:6-7). They think that by becoming even more religious they will overcome the problem.
Micah’s answer is to remind them of what God sees as good: Justice (doing what is right), mercy (unconditional kindness), and humility. Herein lies the hope: that a nation committed to these qualities will experience wellbeing. Bullying, and the abuse of power that lies beneath it, seems to be the antipathy of these three qualities for in bullying there is no justice, no mercy and no humility.
What if our nation, at all levels and through all of its sectors, was to prize justice, mercy, and humility? What if we loudly applauded all expressions of these qualities and refused to excuse and/or affirm in any way, shape, or form the abuse of power. This would include the refusal to excuse the family abuse as ‘just another argument’ or the racial tirade as ‘freedom of speech’ or the vitriolic email as ‘letting off steam’. Let’s do it. Let’s decide as a nation that we’ll no longer put up with bullying. Let’s call it what it is and thus expose it for what it is. And let’s, as a nation, commit ourselves to, and hold our leaders accountable to, seeking justice, mercy, and humility as the Australian way. Come on, let’s do it!
Food for thought.
Dr David R Wilson is Director of Sophia Think Tank, a Bible Society Australia project.