This is Anti-Bullying Week, apparently, so we can expect lots of media interest in bullying and its tragic consequences. We are all against bullying in any shape or form, but I wonder whether any of us will stop to ask ourselves whether we have ever been, or worse still, actually are, bullies. We are quick to talk about being bullied, being victims of another’s rage or hatred; we are much slower to acknowledge the ways in which we try to force others to do our bidding. It may be a rather hidden form of bullying we go in for, scarcely noticeable to outsiders, but it is bullying nonetheless. If the other person won’t do what I want, I will force them. The weapons used may be physical violence, words, or more passive forms of aggression, such as silence or tears. It doesn’t really matter: the intention is violent, even if the action isn’t.
The roots of the word ‘bully’ are to be found in an old Dutch term for a lover or friend. Over the centuries, there has been a sea-change in meaning, but I think it’s worth thinking about the relationship between bullying and love. It is a poor excuse to talk about bullying as inverted love, as though that somehow made everything all right, but the connection between bully and bullied is a strangely powerful one. Just as kidnap victims tend to form bonds with their captors, so those who are bullied often feel that they are reinforcing the bully’s behaviour. They blame themselves for what has gone wrong. That is nonsense, but bullies assume that it lets them off the hook.
I think one of the ways in which we could all make a positive contribution to Anti-Bullying Week would be to examine our own conduct. Inevitably, we will find things we do not like. We must bring them into the light of God’s love for healing and transformation. The message of the Cross is that bullying stops there. Once for all, Christ has taken on his own shoulders the sin and shame of us all. We can change; we can eradicate bullying from our own lives and, at least partially, from the society in which we live; but first of all we must acknowledge the depth of our need. ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a bully’ is harder to say than ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner’ but it may be exactly what we need to say.