In was a dreary November day, and my younger sister and I were walking home from school in our matching Catholic school plaid jumpers. She was in third grade, and I was in fourth, and we were in a hurry because we had to get home, change, grab a snack, and then get to gymnastics practice. We had just reached the top of a little hill and were about to descend when we heard behind us, “Hey, Thunder Thighs!” I turned to look. Tommy, a boy from my class, was stomping on the ground, making booming noises, and two others boys from my class were laughing hysterically. “Must be hard to walk with thunder thighs like that!” he yelled after me. I walked away, trying to pretend I did not care that he had just insulted me that way.
Jump forward four years. I am sitting in eighth grade social studies, still in my Catholic school jumper. My friend Tess has just passed me a note, and I stealthily unfold it and begin to scribble my response. In the note, we make fun of Andrea, an easy target, someone as much on the social outskirts as a person can get, who never wears or says the right thing. As I pass the note back to Tess, rolling my eyes in the direction of Andrea, it is intercepted by Mrs. Winter. I get all red, wondering if Mrs. Winter will read it and what she will think of how mean I was being to someone who really just needed a friend.
Are there incidents that stand out in your memory of times when you were on the receiving end of bullying?
Are there times that stand out in your memory of times when you either participated in bullying or witnessed bullying without doing anything to stop it?
October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. As Ellie Roscher helps us to see in her blog post, bullying connects with the Catholic social justice principle of solidarity, which means partnering with people of all different backgrounds and identities and allegiances to work for justice and peace in the world. Bullying also connects with the first principle of Catholic social teaching, which is the life and dignity of the human person.
The Catholic church believes that each life is sacred and that each person is vested with a human dignity. We are informed in this opinion by numerous biblical texts, one of my favorite being Genesis 1:27: “God created mankind in God’s image; in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.” This first creation story informs us that God created humankind in God’s image. This means that each and every person on our planet has the image of God imprinted in them and is thus worthy of our respect. This includes our pesky younger siblings; our parents, even when it feels as if they do not understand us or listen to us; the social outcasts like Andrea, who never seem to wear or say the right thing; and everyone else we are tempted to belittle for whatever reason.
And not only this. Each and every person we meet also reflects back to us the image of God. This means that everyone we encounter has the potential to connect us with God in a new way. As the U.S. Catholic bishops explain in Economic Justice for All, “When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred.”
This sense of encountering the holy and the sacred in others is not an easy attitude to cultivate. Yet if we are to move beyond bullying, it is exactly the attitude we need to practice. Here is just one idea to work on this in our daily lives: the one minute game. The next time you are tempted to bully or belittle someone, mentally put yourself in their shoes for just one minute. Try to imagine what the world is like for this person and how you would feel to be on the receiving end of disrespectful behavior. Try to identify one positive thing about this person. If we are honest with ourselves about times when we are tempted to mistreat others and challenge ourselves to practice seeing the good in others, we can begin to develop an attitude of reverence and respect for people that is the foundation of peaceful relationships and a more just world.
What other ideas do you have for developing an attitude of encountering the holy and sacred in other people?
What other things can you do to participate in National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month?