Nonviolent Resistance for Hallways and Playgrounds

How can you bear witness to God's love when faced with bullying and harassment?

Discrimination is nothing new.

 

Paul joyfully tells us that Christ has come and "destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14). He was talking about a major barrier within the church of his time - the one between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). 

Today, as the church struggles to be God's community, we confront similar barriers to those in Biblical times. Paul's wake-up call is for us, too! Today's walls are based on differences (or perceived differences) in race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, and more. 

Paul shares the vision that we are "built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Ephesians 2:21). God calls us to be united in Christ (Ephesians 4:3). Let us be transformed by Paul's words, God's Spirit, and Christ's call!  

The walls have been destroyed. 

Our words and actions can bear powerful witness to this love-without-walls.

Let's work together to STOP bullying and harrassment.
Whatever you think about others,
throwing stones is wrong and it must stop.

 

How?

  1. Stop the Harassment!
  2. Identify the Harassment
  3. Publicly Broaden the Response.
  4. Request a Change in Future Behavior.
  5. A Real-Life Story

 

Why?

God calls us to love our neighbors.

Remember: hateful words and actions hurt everyone.

MAKING FUN OF PEOPLE BASED ON THEIR RACE, CLASS, GENDER IDENTITY, SEXUAL IDENTITY, OR ABILITY IS BULLYING!  Bullying hurts the person targeted, the witnesses, and the bully. Act right away! Do not let harassment-verbal or physical-go on for even a minute. Make it clear that HARASSMENT IS NEVER OKAY!

1. Stop the Harassment!

  • Interrupt the comment. Halt the physical harassment.
  • Make sure everyone in the vicinity can hear you. You want everyone-all the youth and adults nearby-to know that all people are safe in this place.
  • Do NOT pull the bully aside for a confidential discussion-stopping the harassment should be as public as the harassment has been.

2. Identify the Harassment.

  • "You just put someone down regarding (race/ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, ability, class etc.)" Or, "You just shoved someone."
  • Put the spotlight on the bully's behavior. Do NOT say anything to imply that the person being harassed belongs to the group just named. Everyone needs to understand that what was said or done is unacceptable.

3. Publicly Broaden the Response.

  • Identify the offense and its consequences: "Name calling is hurtful to everyone who hears it." "Physical attacks on anyone are totally unacceptable and can result in the attacker being put out of the program."
  • Make it clear that the church (or school) is solidly opposed to such behavior: "In this community, we do not harass other people. Period." "Any physical attack, for any reason, is totally unacceptable. Any repetition will have serious consequences for you."

4. Request a Change in Future Behavior.

  • Personalize the response for the bully: "Chris, please think about what you say. This language isn't what we would have expected of you."
  • Quietly, check in with the person who was harassed: "Are you okay? Do you want to talk with me or someone else? Let's go find a quiet place to chat."
  • Quietly reassure the person who was harassed: "Please let me know if this happens again, and I will take further action. Everyone should feel safe and be safe here. What happened was totally unacceptable, and you are very important to all of us."

[Adapted from Advocates for Youth, "From Research to Practice: Tips and Strategies for Addressing Harassment."]

 

5. A Real-Life Story

It is remarkable what affect our words have on other people. I can remember hurtful things someone said to me for ages. Even petty things from when I was only a few years old stay with me to today. I'm sure most people share this experience. Yet, we often forget how much of an impact we have ourselves. Things slip out of our mouths because we do not think about how they could affect others, directly or indirectly. The power we hold with our words is immense and should be treated carefully.

            I grew up in a small town with many close friends. However, when I was in junior high, the word "gay" started spreading like wildfire throughout the student body. Now, I'm sure you can guess the context. It wasn't like, "Wow! The happiness of springtime makes me feel gay!" Nor was it, "My uncle came out to us the other day. It was surprising to me that he was gay." It was more like, "Get off my shoes, jerk. You're so gay!" I was of the opinion that this use of the word was wrong. It's hard to imagine this happening to you if you are straight. No one walks around putting things down because they seem heterosexual. Of course, I doubt people ever put that much thought into it before they use the word gay in a derogatory way.

            The fact that people do not think about their words gives us an opportunity to make a point of it. Allowing friends and even random acquaintances to use words in a discriminatory way makes us as guilty as them. Our silence allows the ideas to spread and become commonplace. Our words do not simply express our thoughts; they can inspire thoughts in others. For this reason, it is important to question someone if they express offensive things to you. I started doing this at my junior high school. A conversation would go something like this:

            "Ugh. That shirt is so gay."

            "Really? It's attracted to other male shirts?"

            "What do you mean? Shirts can't be male."

            "So what did you mean?"

            "I meant that it is stupid."

            "Stupid and gay don't mean the same thing. None of the people I know who are gay are also stupid. Maybe you should find a better word."

This is effective with some. They realize that they have little idea of what they're saying on a daily basis. However, there were some guys at my school that just wouldn't stop. I told them that I would be charging them a nickel for every time they said the word "gay" in a derogatory way. I didn't think it would work. It did. They actually started approaching me as we passed in the hallway and handing me nickels saying, "I did it last period." I couldn't believe it. Now, I don't know whether they stopped saying it as much, or whether they were just making a joke of the whole idea. The important thing to me, though, was that they were thinking about it. They had started to recognize how often these things slipped out, without a single thought.

            Our daily interactions are far more important than most people believe. A march on Washington, a Habitat for Humanity trip, a donation to the food bank-these things are held as sacred and influential beyond all else. No doubt they are essential, but what about the great deal of time in between? What about the movie night with friends? What about dinner with the family? These are important spaces for making change. Being aware of your words and those of others keeps us from becoming passive. We begin to influence people's thoughts and opinions in positive ways.  --Matt Boyer