When our kids were in elementary school, one of the lessons we needed to teach them was the difference between friendly teasing and mean teasing. Sometimes people tease you a little bit because they like you. Other times teasing is malignant.
The last three years have been wearing for our family.
One of the things we had to teach our kids when they were growing up is the difference between friendly teasing and mean teasing. Kids with autism frequently have a difficult time interpreting social cues. That, combined with a tendency toward understanding language literally without benefit of subtext, makes them more vulnerable to to bullying.
I’m seeing a movement among teachers and social workers in public schools to try to limit the behaviors that are defined as “bullying.” Teachers, administrators and social workers have a lot on their plates, and cannot be the constant arbitrators of disputes. Kids are not learning to stand up for themselves, but can stop every unpleasant interaction with the accusation of bullying.
Perhaps they are right, to a point. Not every interaction, or series of interactions, is bullying. Some of it is jockeying for position in the world. We need to learn how to overcome obstacles and attitudes in the world. We need to learn how to get along with those who disagree with us. We need to learn to have compassion for those who have different opinions. And we need to learn to push back against the wrong, to stand up for what is right. We can’t learn to have backbone without some training in standing up for ourselves and others.
I know by personal experience what bullying is. It is constant, relentless, long term. I was bullied relentlessly from kindergarten through halfway through the sixth grade when our family moved to Lowell. I would not be the person that I am without this experience. It has affected me all my life. It had both positive and negative effects.
Because of bullying, I became a voracious reader. I read everything in the house, including the encyclopedias from A to Z. Reading developed the skills I needed to go to college later on. Reading helped me to develop as a writer. Bullying also played a part in my decision to become a Christian. I understood and accepted the work of the cross on my behalf. But I remember thinking that Jesus understood what it was like to be bullied. I was nine.
But that time of bullying in my life also affected me in very negative ways. I developed a shell as a means of protecting myself. I became withdrawn, shy. Depression has been a on and off visitor throughout my life. My third year of college was a complete disaster. Except that it wasn’t. I came close to dropping out. For every class that I passed, I failed one. Every quarter I failed two classes for every two I got Cs in. Before this, my average was a 3.5, and higher in honors classes. I gave up on the church, and told God that I didn’t understand why I had no friends. That was also the year I started counseling, which was life changing. I learned many coping skills and relational skills. At the end of the year, my Jewish counselor said to me, “Don’t give up on God.”
People who knew me before that year of counseling and after, remarked that I was very different. Not outgoing and bubbly by any means, but more open. More friendly. More able to cope.
My experience with bullying has also made me more likely to speak up when I see it. Or hear about it. When my kids were bullied at school or church, if I knew about it, I said something. One problem I have is over reaction. Bullying can fill me with rage. I have to stop myself because that is counter-productive.
So I have spent a couple of years in opposition to Donald Trump. Because he is a bully, plain and simple. He models relentless bullying and I cannot accept this as okay. It’s the same kind of language that my bullies in elementary school used on me. Changing my name to insults, calling me a weakling, throwing stones. President Trump has tweeted just this morning, changing the name of one of his opponents to a swear word. How can this be acceptable to Christians. It is relentless.
Our family has a strong reaction to bullies because we understand from personal experience the kind of relentless bullying our nation has seen modeled from our president. And our reaction is visceral. We’ve had to counsel ourselves and our kids to step back and not attack those who support bullying. We still stand against the bullying we are witnessing. We can do no other.
We voted our repudiation instead. All of us. There should be a cost.
Donald Trump is our president, but we do not look up to him or admire him.