We all probably have some experience with the old rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” We know, now, that this is just not true. Names do hurt and sometimes the wounds are very deep, indeed. I have my stories of unkind treatment by a classmate in eighth grade who made my life just miserable every day and it’s likely you have some tales, too. But, despite how painful the situation was for me, it pales in comparison to the depth of meanness we read in the headlines. Last summer, General Convention supported a resolution addressing the tragedy of bullying:
Churchwide Response to Bullying (D022)
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Convention calls for a churchwide response to the epidemic of bullying, particularly of those perceived as being “different” by virtue of economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, religious status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; bullying is defined as the recurring use of single or combined written, verbal or electronic expressions or physical acts or gestures, directed at any person that: result in physical or emotional harm to the person or damage to his/her property; places the person in reasonable fear of harm to him/herself or of damage to her/his property; creates an intimidating or hostile environment for the person; impacts the rights of the victim. Bullying shall include cyber-bullying through electronic/social media, telephonic technology or other means; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage new partnerships among our congregations, dioceses, campus ministries, National Association of Episcopal Schools, public schools, counseling centers, and governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with higher risk populations; and be it further
Resolved, That these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing required programs designed to recognize and prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation in our church settings which:
– utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials
– raise participant’s awareness about the issue
– focus on prevention
– seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior
– create partnerships between youth and adults
– provide intervention and treatment for those who exhibit bullying behavior.
Despite all the programs and press describing horrific stories of the consequences of cruel words and actions toward others, bullying continues in our schools, workplaces, homes and even our churches. It happens to vulnerable children, as well as to adults when prejudice and discrimination obscure the humanity of another person. The act of bullying is in direct conflict to our Baptismal Covenant. So, what can we do?
We can begin in our own homes and families by considering the words and actions we use with those near us. Do we allow our teasing to go too far or do we model restraint and sensitivity for our children. With our coworkers, do we laugh at jokes that play on generalizations about other races or cultures because we want to fit in and are afraid to speak up? Are we honest with ourselves about our feelings toward those that differ from us in any way?
One suggestion for action came from our friends at Covenant 5. Each of us lives in a school district that should have a policy about bullying in the school. We can ask to see this policy. Maybe we can’t check up on how it’s enforced but raising the question just might let the authorities know someone is concerned and watching.
I also did a quick Google search for resources designed to prevent bullying and found many, many sites with helpful suggestions and education for parents, teachers and concerned citizens. What are you doing in your congregation to address this issue?
The very worst thing we can do is nothing.
Let’s work together to change this culture for health and growth and dignity for all!
~ Judith Schellhammer, Chair, Resolution review Committee, Diocesan Council