Bullying occurs across all groups and ages. However, this short message is mainly intended for boys and young men, who are likely to become perpetrators or victims of bullying.
From memories and observations I made in my childhood and teen years, I’ve made the assumption that bullying is often a boy’s attempt to demonstrate his manliness to others. Acts of bullying usually occur in front of a group of followers, so that the display of manliness can gain the reputation the bully desires.
At that age, boys and young men have different ideas of “the measure of a man”.
Some of these measures include:
• Physical strength
• Sporting achievements
• Daring to speak in a mocking and disrespectful manner to teachers and other people in positions of authority
• Adventurous experimentation with alcohol and drugs and
• Being known as a “winner” with significant numbers of the opposite sex.
There’s another measure of a man I to want highlight, because I believe that if we could get boys and young men to value this particular measure, then we could make significant advances in overcoming bullying.
The measure I’m talking about is how prepared someone is to risk his reputation, and possibly losing some of his friends, to defend, support and encourage those who are weaker and less confident than others.
Consider this fairly typical bullying scenario.
A quiet natured high school boy (about 13 to 15 years old) is sitting by himself in the schoolyard having lunch. Another boy, with several of his mates following approaches the boy and demands that he hand over his lunch and pocket money. After the boy complies with the demand, the other boy spits in his face and makes some very devaluing, humiliating comments to him before walking away, with his friends admiring him for his toughness and general manliness.
I’ll come back to that scenario in a moment.
There’s a good illustration of the measure of a man I mentioned earlier, in a bible story which is well known as the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is a story Jesus told when he was talking with a man about the importance of the commandment to “love your neighbour”. The man asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Here is a rough version of the story Jesus told in response to the question:
A man was walking along a road, which was the main method of travelling 2,000 years ago, when a group of men attacked him. They robbed him, stripped him, and severely beat him, and then left him naked and half dead on the side of the road.
Two different men came past him on separate occasions. They were both citizens who were highly regarded in religious circles. However, for personal reasons they chose not to get involved and passed by the wounded man without offering any assistance.
Then another man came along. He was from a cultural group who were significantly devalued in the community. However, when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. He performed some first aid on his wounds, gave him some of his clothes, and then took the man on his donkey to the nearest village where he arranged for accommodation for him at an inn. He then told the inn keeper that he would pay for any additional costs of looking after the man when he returned.
After telling that story, Jesus asked the question, “Which of the three men who came along would you say was a neighbour to the man who had been attacked?” The obvious answer was, “The one who looked after him.”
Now the question, “Who was a neighbour to the man?” is very similar to the question, “Who was the real man in this situation?”
Let’s go back to the school yard scenario.
Keeping in mind the measure of a man that I mentioned earlier, about defending, supporting, and encouraging those who are weaker and less confident than others, my suggestion is that a real man in this situation would be one of the group following the bully, who steps in and says, “Leave him alone – give him back his lunch and money”, and then sits down with the boy and gives him assurance that he’ll look after him, be his friend, and help him to develop more confidence. He gives no consideration to the possibility that he may lose some of his friends by interfering in the situation this way.
Being popular with the “in-group” is very important for boys and young men. It gives them a feeling of security.
Being a real man, according to the measure I’ve presented here isn’t easy, because it may involve losing favour with the popular crowd. It takes a lot of courage to stand against the flow of the majority. But I believe that choosing to make a commitment to someone who needs a supportive, encouraging friend and mentor will ultimately win the admiration of people who matter most, and that choice will be a much more rewarding experience.
In later years, this is the quality of character who will take the lead in standing against the major injustices in the world (like child slavery), and the oppression of minority groups.