Bullying - you can overcome Goliath!

I’m preaching my way through some of the ‘one another’ sayings in the New Testament at the moment, like serve, greet, forgive, confess your sins to, and don’t judge.

Another saying, which comes from Romans 12:10, says “honour one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). What does this mean? To honour someone is to hold them in respect, to assign them value and worth.

We see so much honouring going on in society. The Queen’s Honours List, Certificates of Achievement, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Employee of the Month awards, National Service medals, and so the list goes on.

Sadly, honouring others (showing them value and worth) often goes against our natural selfish instinct. So what’s the opposite of honour? One form of dis-honour that comes to mind is bullying. A bully may have a mixture of motives for bullying: envy, resentment, jealousy, or concern with preserving self-image, or a strong need to control, or to boost self-esteem so that by dishonouring others they feel empowered.

Bullying comes in many forms such as verbal (like name-teasing, arguing others into submission, rumour-spreading, hurtful and intimidating words, hyper-criticism), physical (like punching, hair-pulling, kicking) and emotional (like giving ‘the silent treatment’, ignoring, excluding). Whatever its form, the bully’s overbearing, domineering behaviour is intended to destabilise the victim leading them into compliance and then often a state of deep distress and dread.

This week the photos and story surrounding Nigella Lawson and her husband Charles Saatchi has generated a lot of comment. Was it just a ‘playful tiff’? Is a police caution for assault an effective deterrent? Is she being bullied at home?

Another recent report in The Times magazine (15.6.13) tells stories of cyber-bullying via social media (e.g., Facebook) and the difficulties of controlling such an epidemic. Teenage victims feel so isolated and, if it is not dealt with, there is the threat of delayed mental health issues later in life. Tragically, some of this bullying leads to the so-called ‘bullycide’, where a victim cannot overcome the emotional impact of intimidation and sees no way out other than by taking their life.

Bullying strips the victim of self-confidence and self-esteem. Bullying can cause the victim to start questioning themselves: am I being over-sensitive or over-reacting? Why can’t I cope with strong personalities? The victim may find it difficult to stop playing out possible scenarios or conversations in their head, sometimes losing all self-belief, becoming withdrawn and feeling acutely anxious as a consequence. Bullying is not good for mental health.

It made me think: who were the bullies in the Bible who did not show much honour to others? The brothers of Joseph who could not speak a kind word to him (Genesis 37). The unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable who grabbed his debtor by the throat and demanded instant payment (Matthew 18). The crowds who mocked and abused Jesus prior to his death (Matthew 27)… to name a few.

There are probably others but the classic example is surely Goliath. This giant of a man is neither gentle nor sleeping! He is ready for battle, a towering figure of immense stature and weaponry. In 1 Samuel 17 he taunts the Israelites and challenges them to a fight, strutting his stuff in front of their eyes to paralyse them into fear. Up steps little shepherd-boy David, nervous, unassuming, but up for the fight because he has developed the skills to win and has the God-of-the-underdog on his side! And he triumphs, beating the Philistine ‘champion’ with only a sling and a stone!

The therapist might say the victory came because David was prepared to stand up to his fear rather than deny or avoid it. The theologian might say he responded positively to the bullying tactics due to his strong faith in God. The practitioner might say he succeeded because of the competence he had gained through the skills he’d learnt in his father’s fields. And they’d all be right!

So… if you feeling powerless to respond:

Pray that you will be delivered from the oppression of others (Psalm 119:134).

Be strong – choose to believe that disparaging remarks or threatening behaviour will not prevent you from being able to function effectively.  

Lean on friends – don’t carry the burden in isolation but speak to some trusted companions.

Stand your ground – speak to the bully calmly, politely and objectively. Don’t repay evil with evil; speak the truth in love.

You can overcome your Goliath!
Andy Scott, 21/06/2013