Just before 7 a.m. sophomore Alex Moore jumped headfirst into southbound traffic. She plummeted for approximately 1.2 seconds and traveled nearly twenty-six mph before impact. The driver of an 18-wheeler saw Alex’s body comet to earth and was barely able to halt his massive rig in time. “I was at her side in about thirty seconds,” he told Alex’s mother as he cried. “She was dead when I got to her.”
I once believed young women like Alex cried before their deaths, the way they do in movies. But that was before I understood their desperate desire for relief. I have had hundreds of school-aged children wrap their arms around my neck after I speak in their schools about our disjointed war against adolescent bullying. They come from every background: physically challenged, mentally challenged, smart, dull, privileged, poor, straight, gay, and every shade of flesh. They convulse in my arms as if possessed.
That’s because they are. Part of their body, spirit, and soul is owned by their classmates.
MICHIGAN BOY, 13, KILLS HIMSELF AFTER BEING BULLIED ON SCHOOL BUS, MOM SAYS
Upwards of 70 percent of targets, like Alex, don’t tell anyone. One reason is that many targets lack even basic words to convey their inner terror, in part because adults have not prepared them for the real world of bullying. A more saddening reason for their silence is because they don’t believe adults will create meaningful solutions. Their reticence has merit since many adults cannot provide a working definition of bullying, nor real solutions to free these children from their misery.
The impediments to freedom from bullying are many, and some are formidable, such as the burden of the Niceness Doctrine which goes like this: “when I’m nice to you, you are obligated to be nice to me.” It’s an especially attractive belief to church people, yet it can be deadly in the wrong application, like serial bullying.
If we truly want strong children, we must help them stand against bullying, which can also provide an avenue to profound spiritual growth.
Bullies eat through the Niceness Doctrine like termites through punky wood. Instead, they respond to power greater than their own. And to consequences. That’s their two-part love language, and we need to speak it to them sooner rather than later.
My book, “Free Us from Bullying: Real Solutions beyond Being Nice,” helps us speak their language for the betterment of all children, including the serial bullies—because the sooner we can really reach them, the sooner we can arrest their budding criminality and help turn their lives around. No child is disposable, including the serial bully.
Bullying represents the worst in human nature—such as arrogance, contempt, and disdain—but combatting it brings out the best in us as well—such as kindness, compassion, and especially courage, the virtue that supports all other virtues.
Children who stand against bullying without becoming bullies themselves, what my book calls “resistance without war,” become stronger, more righteous, more courageous, and successful adults. If we truly want strong children, we must help them stand against bullying, which can also provide an avenue to profound spiritual growth.
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When surveyed, both parents and students place bullying at the top of their list of concerns. It’s a national problem and worry, exacerbated by social media and our increasingly contentious and coarsening society. Its seriousness is underscored by the growing number of teen suicides linked directly to bullying, and how revenge against bullying is the primary motive behind most school shootings, revealing how although bullying isn’t always evil, sometimes it is.
I hope that I can help turn your preconceptions about the causes and prevention of bullying upside down because what we’re currently doing isn’t working. We will never fully eradicate bullying, but I hope you’ll join with me in learning how we substantially reduce it.
Excerpted from “Free Us from Bullying: Real Solutions beyond Being Nice” (Leafwood Publishers 2018)