The stories are heartbreaking. A raft of reports involving children tormented by classmates, too afraid to go to the very schools intended to provide them nurturing and education. Of parents pleading with officials who turn a blind eye to the victimizers and an indifferent one to the victims, sometimes feeling powerless to change systems and cultures beyond their control. And even, unthinkably, of suicide.
As too many recent reports indicate, bullying today is no quaint, “kids will be kids” phenomenon. Following the apparent Jan. 14 suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl in the South Hadley, Mass., school system, an investigation revealed that a number of students had severely tormented her over a period of weeks, largely through text messages and Facebook postings. This was the state’s second suicide reportedly tied to bullying in the past year.
News of Phoebe’s suffering, and of that school system’s lack of response, resulted in an outcry from concerned students, parents, and teachers. Other reports of bullying surfaced statewide. Officials in several communities pressed criminal charges, legislation was drafted to force school districts to report instances of bullying, and the City of Boston established an anonymous “bullying hot line.” There was also pointed acknowledgment that cyberbullying, or the use of online social networking to deride victims, is growing rapidly.
Even when it doesn’t result in the tragedy of youth suicide, tormenting by peers poses a destructive threat to the well-being of far too many young people. For their sake – and in a very real sense for the sake of anyone at any age who faces bullying in its myriad forms, many of which may seem worlds away from school corridors – it’s an issue that needs attention, prayer, and healing.
What can the individual do? From a Christian Science standpoint, the answer is, a great deal. We’re each empowered to check our thoughts and to begin standing up to our own tormenting fears and anxieties. Although this may at first seem disconnected from the issue at hand, when coupled with a desire to pray concertedly about the issue of bullying, it is a powerful approach – a spiritual response. The thoughts we think have transformative power, when they reflect the healing light of God, Love itself.
“The effects of Christian Science are not so much seen as felt,” wrote Mary Baker Eddy. “It is the ‘still, small voice’ of Truth uttering itself. We are either turning away from this utterance, or we are listening to it and going up higher” ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 323). This voice is God’s healing message. Turning to it always brings peace.
It destroys fear. It ennobles kindness. It nurtures true courage. It speaks the self-worth and dignity that repel bullies – and bullying thoughts. It quells the selfishness and insecurity that lead bullies to glory in another’s humiliation. This Christ-message puts us in what the Bible calls “the secret place of the most High” (Ps. 91:1). It peacefully pushes back on threats of physical abuse.
Jesus embodied Truth so fully that he healed consistently and instantaneously. For many of us, it’s more of a work in progress. And yet, to follow in the teachings of Jesus, pursuing the healing and peacemaking that he taught, is very much to launch a spiritual campaign to stand up to bullying on every level. This describes the mental resistance at the heart of Christian Science, and it involves confronting the error of evil’s reality in any form with the truth of God’s complete goodness.
In the chapter titled “Christian Science Practice,” Science and Health has this (and so much more!) to say about the bold, unflinching resistance to terror that characterizes courageous, Christian prayer: “Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good. God has made man capable of this, and nothing can vitiate the ability and power divinely bestowed on man” (p. 393).
No threatening condition has power to hold God’s sons and daughters in terror. Jesus was demonstrating this when he stood on a mountain and battled the temptation to cast himself down. When he walked through a murderous mob unharmed and went his way. When he ended a storm and calmed a sea. When he healed a woman so deformed that she walked at an angle. When he countered the taunts and arguments of the lawyers and Pharisees with the truth of God’s unconditional love for His creation.
Everywhere you look in the Gospels, you find a wonderful, overarching example Jesus set for all to follow: He proved we don’t have to be victims of evil threats in any form, and that we can, through knowing our God, lay claim to this truth for the good of ourselves and all.
On behalf of the students today who yearn to feel safe and worthy, we can take this stand by learning and practicing more of what he demonstrated. These young people have the divine right to be free. And so do we all.
From an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel.