The Common Good

Cries From the Bully-Pulpit

We’ve talked about bullying on this blog before. We’ve highlighted Christians who are standing with gays and lesbians, exposed racial bullying, discussed religious bullying, bullying of every stripe. We’ve tried to tell meaningful stories about support, healing and prevention.

Bullying word cloud, kentoh/Shutterstock.com
Bullying word cloud, kentoh/Shutterstock.com

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But there’s more to say.

It came up again recently—from a familiar source—Glee. They’ve had some plot lines about bullying, forgiveness, and acceptance, but in a February episode “On My Way,” they went full throttle on the horrifying consequences that bullying can bring: suicide.

If you haven’t followed the show, here’s the deal: a reformed bully himself, David Karofsky comes out of the closet and reaches out to Kurt Hummel (whom he used to bully—complicated, I know) on Valentine’s Day. A jerk from David’s new football team sees it, starts a rumor and fans the flames. David’s mother tells him he has a disease, his football team physically threatens him, classmates abuse him on Twitter and Facebook, and the end result is David’s attempt at hanging himself in his bedroom. The rest of the episode encourages him and all the other students to look into the future and name out loud with they’re looking forward to in their lives. From the upcoming graduation to successful careers and loving families, they get a little misty-eyed. It’s lovely. The episode is about seeing the bigger picture, about looking past the immediate pain and taking a long-term outlook. The most interesting moment in the episode though, is when the teachers at McKinley are trying to absolve their own guilt. The Principal says, “It wasn’t our job to know [if he would hurt himself].” The guidance counselor asks “Then whose was it?” It’s the most poignant scene in the episode.  

Bullying and the horror of teen suicide unfortunately isn’t just a plot point on television. We all know it happens in small towns, in big cities, in good families, in broken homes all across this country every day. The documentary aptly named Bully chronicles the stories of five kids and families affected by bullying. The movie, out Friday, follows three students, one of whom is in jail for retaliating against her bullies, and two sets of parents who are healing from their sons’ suicides. Bully tells the common stories of the 13 million kids in this country who are bullied every year and even the trailer itself is heartbreaking. The movie seems to be joining in the country-wide chorus of parents and teachers who have taken enough of the bullying and are promoting a more open, welcoming, peaceful environment for their kids, or sometimes, sadly, in their memory.

Recently, we’ve seen lots of efforts pop up, from The Trevor Project to It Gets Better and myriad other initiatives that are trying their best to get the word out about this personal, national, societal problem.

Their work is of the utmost importance but more is still needed.It’s not all about the bullies. And it’s not all about the kids who suffer. It’s about us, too. We’re responsible. For all of it.

Bullying is on a spectrum, from outright physical abuse to the equally dangerous indifference. When we, as adults, let “kids be kids” and let a smack over the head go without comment, when we see a red flag and don’t follow up, when we don’t proactively help the pariah, the outcast, we are just as guilty as the bully who throws the punch. When we do nothing, we let the insidious cancer of indifference seep into one more child’s heart. There are adults who speak up. There are kids who have the courage to go against their friends and be kind, but the vast majorities stay silent.

Let’s put an end to that.

The heart of the It Gets Better project is to give a message of encouragement and reach out to someone you don’t know- how about we reach out to someone we do know. The girl who sits by herself. The jock that withdraws all of a sudden. Sometimes all a kid needs to tip the scales from depression to acceptance is “Good question in class today- I’m glad you asked it.” or “Cool phone” or just a laugh at a joke. One simple act of kindness.

So, to the lanky kids, to the buck toothed, to the different, to the devout, to the too smart, too tall, too dark, too light, too chubby, too whatever- to the used-to-be any of these- we see you, we hear you, and we promise to never be indifferent. If you can summon the courage to ask for help, we’ll be there. If you can’t, we’ll be there, too.

For more on 'Bully:'

Carrie Adams is the Communications Associate for Sojourners. Follow Carrie on Twitter @MadameCAdams.

Bullying word cloud, kentoh/Shutterstock.com

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