A More Detailed Look at Countering Bullying through Forgiveness in Schools
Bullying has become a national epidemic in the United States. One website claims that 50% of students will be bullied at one time or another in school.
UNICEF has included bullying as a worldwide problem which needs protective solutions for children (see page 17 in particular).
We surely must take precautions such as: letting students know that they must not tolerate bullying, report such incidences, and take necessary precautions to stay safe.
There are many websites dealing with this growing problem. For example, “Kidscape” encourages parents to confront their own child’s behavior if he or she is showing a pattern of bullying. The parent is to acknowledge the actions as inappropriate and then to reward instances of positive behavior.
Bullying UK also offers advice to parents and schools such as: set clear discipline standards, be sure that all students and staff know that bullying is unacceptable, and punish appropriately when necessary. All of the advice is sound and worthy of attention.
We would like to suggest that a key element not being addressed is this: How can we eliminate the fury within those who show bullying behavior? The answers are rare on-line. We strongly suggest that programs which center on bullying behavior take one step away from the actual behavior and treat the rage.
How might this happen? First, a trained professional should sit down with the student showing the bullying behavior and ask: What in your life has made you angry, very angry?
Listen carefully to the story for it might surprise you. In all likelihood, this student has been bullied by others at some time in his or her life. He or she is now displacing that pent-up rage onto unsuspecting victims.
Acknowledge that he or she has been treated unfairly. This might seem ironic because it is this student who treats others unfairly. Yet, in all likelihood this is stemming from being treated unfairly in the past.
Be slow, deliberate, and repetitive in the following exercises: Help the student to see that others and the self have inherent worth. This is likely to take time because the student who bullies does not see such worth in others whom he or she abuses. The student in all likelihood has low self-esteem, from past unfair treatment, and so may not see the self as worthy of much at all. The forgiveness curriculum guides offer many opportunities to examine this important feature of inherent worth.
Regarding this theme of teaching inherent worth, start with story characters. Show the student how some story characters are treated unfairly and then begin to see the inherent worth in those who have been unjust to that story character. Then turn to the student’s own experiences of some less-serious offenses against him or her. Again, acknowledge the unfair treatment and ask: Does the person who hurt you have inherent worth? Work up to the bigger issues of injustice in the student’s life, after he or she gets used to thinking in this way: All people have inherent worth.
Finally, try some legal pardon or mercy in school with one who bullies. In other words, if there is a deserved punishment awaiting the student for inappropriate behavior, reduce the punishment or eliminate it altogether. Make sure the student understands that you and the school just had mercy on him/her. The student’s task is now to go and do likewise: to have mercy on those whom he/she has abused in the past.
It is time to place forgiveness at the heart of the school’s bullying problems.