Young People Ask . . .
Bullying—What’s the Harm?
‘Hey! I was only having a little fun. What’s the big deal? Besides, Ron deserved it.’
YOU may be bigger and stronger than most of your peers. Or perhaps you are quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and aggressive. In any event, intimidating, teasing, or getting a laugh at someone else’s expense seems to come easily to you.
Although bulldozing others may get a laugh out of your friends, it is no light matter. In fact, some researchers are finding that bullying is more damaging to its victim than they ever imagined. One survey of U.S. school-age youths found that “90 percent of those bullied said they suffered side effects—a drop in grades, an increase in anxiety, a loss of friends or social life.” In Japan one 13-year-old “hanged himself after leaving a lengthy note that detailed three years of bullying.”a
Just what makes a person a bully? And if you are behaving like one yourself, how can you change?
What Is a Bully?
The Bible tells of bullies who lived before the Noachian Flood. They were called the Nephilim—a word that means “those who cause others to fall down.” During their reign of terror, “the earth became filled with violence.”—Genesis 6:4, 11.
However, you don’t have to hit or push people around to be a bully. Anyone who treats other people—especially those who are weak or vulnerable—in a cruel or abusive way is a bully. (Compare Ecclesiastes 4:1.) Bullies try to threaten, intimidate, and control. But most use their mouths, not their fists. In fact, emotional bullying is the most frequent form of this abuse. It can thus include insults, sarcasm, ridicule, and name-calling.
Sometimes, though, bullying can be subtle. Take, for example, what happened to Lisa.b She grew up with a group of girlfriends. But when she was 15 years old, things began to change. Lisa became very pretty and started to attract a lot of attention. She explains: “My friends started leaving me out and saying mean things about me behind my back—or even to my face.” They also spread lies about her, trying to ruin her reputation. Yes, provoked by jealousy, they bullied her in a callous and cruel way.
The Making of a Bully
Aggressive behavior is often related to one’s home environment. “My father was aggressive,” says a youth named Scott, “so I was aggressive.” Aaron also had a difficult home life. He recalls: “I realized people knew about my family situation—that it was different—and I didn’t like people feeling sorry for me.” So when Aaron engaged in sports, he had to win. But winning wasn’t enough. He had to humiliate his opponents—rubbing their noses in their defeat.
Brent, on the other hand, was raised by God-fearing parents. But he admits: “I would make people laugh, but sometimes I didn’t know when to stop, and I’d hurt someone’s feelings.” Brent’s desire to have fun and to attract attention to himself caused him to disregard other people’s feelings.—Proverbs 12:18.
Other youths seem to be influenced by television. Crime dramas glorify ‘tough guys’ and make it seem that being kind is unmanly. Popular comedies are filled with sarcasm. News reports often highlight the fighting and rough talk that goes on during sporting events. Our friends can also affect the way we treat others. When our peers are bullies, it is easy for us to jump on the bandwagon to avoid being picked on ourselves.
Whatever your situation, if you are using bullying tactics, then your victims are not the only ones being harmed.
The magazine Psychology Today reports: “Bullying may begin in childhood, but it continues into adulthood.” One research study reported on in The Dallas Morning News found that “65 percent of the boys identified as bullies in the second grade had felony convictions by 24.”
True, not all bullies become criminals. But making a habit of running roughshod over others could create real problems for you later in life. Carried over into marriage, it could result in severe distress for your spouse and your children. Since employers favor those who know how to get along well with others, it could deny you job opportunities. Future privileges in the Christian congregation could likewise be withheld. “Someday, I would like to qualify to serve as an elder,” says Brent, “but my dad helped me realize that people won’t come to me with their problems if they think that I might say something sarcastic.”—Titus 1:7.
How to Change
We do not always see our own faults clearly. The Scriptures warn us that one can even act “too smoothly to himself in his own eyes to find out his error so as to hate it.” (Psalm 36:2) So you might try asking a parent, a trusted friend, or a mature Christian for observations. The truth may hurt, but it just might help you see what changes you need to make. (Proverbs 20:30) “I think listening was the biggest thing that helped me,” says Aaron. “Those who were honest told me where I was going wrong. It wasn’t always what I wanted to hear, but it was what I really needed.”
Does this mean that you have to undergo a dramatic change in your entire personality? No, likely it will just be a matter of readjusting your thinking and some of your behavior. (2 Corinthians 13:11) For example, up till now perhaps you have thought of yourself as superior because of your size, strength, or quick wit. But the Bible encourages us to act “with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior.” (Philippians 2:3) Realize that others—regardless of size or strength—have admirable qualities that you do not have.
You may also need to rid yourself of the tendency to be aggressive or domineering. Work on “keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) If you need to speak up, do so without being abusive, sarcastic, or insulting.—Ephesians 4:31.
If you are tempted to resort to bullying, remember that God destroyed the bullying Nephilim. (Genesis 6:4-7; 7:11, 12, 22) Centuries later, in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, God expressed great displeasure toward those guilty of “pushing” and “shoving” helpless ones. (Ezekiel 34:21) Knowing that Jehovah hates bullying can be a powerful incentive for one to make needed changes!
It also helps to meditate on Bible principles prayerfully. The Golden Rule states: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) When tempted to intimidate someone, ask yourself: ‘Do I like to be shoved around, intimidated, or humiliated? Then why do I treat others that way?’ The Bible commands us to “become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate.” (Ephesians 4:32) Jesus set a perfect example in this regard. Although he was superior to all other humans, he treated everyone with kindness, empathy, and respect. (Matthew 11:28-30) Try to do the same if you are confronted with someone who is weaker than you—or even gets on your nerves.
What, though, if your aggressive behavior springs from feelings of anger over the way you are being treated at home? In some cases, such anger may be justified. (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:7.) Yet, the Bible tells us that the righteous man Job was warned: “Take care that rage does not allure you into spiteful [actions] . . . Be on your guard that you do not turn to what is hurtful.” (Job 36:18, 21) Even if you are being mistreated, you have no right to mistreat others. A better approach would be to try to talk things over with your parents. If you are a victim of severe mistreatment, outside help may be required to protect you from further harm.
Changing may not be easy, but it is possible. Says Brent: “I pray about this almost every day, and Jehovah has helped me to make some good refinements.” As you likewise make refinements in the way you treat people, you will no doubt find that people will like you better. Remember, people may fear bullies, but no one really likes them.
a For a discussion of how victims of bullying can avoid harassment, see “Young People Ask . . . What Can I Do About School Bullies?,” in our August 8, 1989, issue.
b Some names have been changed.
[Blurb on page 19]
“Bullying may begin in childhood, but it continues into adulthood”
[Picture on page 18]
Verbal abuse is a form of bullying