Every once in a while I come across stories that make me feel rather ambivalent, and it is those sorts of stories that allow me to work my way through difficult mental dilemmas. Such an occasion happened today, as numerous friends of mine on Facebook shared a story about a ten year old girl who apparently committed suicide as a result of prolonged bullying. I feel rather mixed emotions about this. On the one hand I know very well just how cruel children can be and abhor it. For just about my entire childhood, until the age of about 18, I had to struggle against bullying from neighbors, classmates, people at my church. The experience brought out my grim determination not to surrender to despair as well as a lot of less healthy sensitivities. On the other hand, I wonder why we aren’t raising young people who are strong enough to overcome adversity, something that gives me a great deal of pause.
I can’t say that my own endurance of years of bullying and abuse from my peers and occasionally from authority figures has been entirely pleasant. I’m a combative person–I suspect I would have always been a little prickly, but the experiences I have endured have greatly lowered my tolerance for others, to the point where my sarcasm and feistiness are often instantaneous and automatic, making it difficult for me to prevent escalating minor quarrels into massive warfare. When one is used to constant battling, it’s hard to see any sort of hostile action on the part of others as anything less than a full assault, and that means it’s off to war again, whether it is with family, friends, brethren, or anyone really who happens to hit a sensitive spot. I endured my hellish childhood by learning how to fight grim and brutal battles with an eye for the long term, and my curse is that I have never been able to lay the weapons down. There are enemies and false friends everywhere.
I say this because I recognize that not everyone may want to respond the way I have to the same circumstances. Reading the news can be rather terrifying sometimes, though. One reads of school shootings and murder-suicides from people who have endured what I have (or even much less, in some case), and I grimly muse that there but for the grace of God go I. For whatever reason, and I’m not entirely sure why, He saw fit to deliver me from either suicide or murder, while toughening me up for conflict through seemingly constant battles. So long as we live in a fallen world full of sin, we must be strong enough to do battle with it. It is not enough merely to be good, we must also recognize that we have been called to arms in a desperate spiritual warfare deep behind enemy lines.
And while I grieve and mourn for those who are victims, I wish we would not so easily fall for victim narratives. Bullies are often abused and oppressed themselves, and simply act out what they experience from others. If we want to stop bullying in schools, we are going to have to look at homes, and deal with spousal abuse and child abuse there. We have to deal with problems like alcoholism and drug abuse in our communities and families. We find that most of us (myself included) are not merely victims, but are both sinned against and sinning, usually working with incomplete and faulty information, a little too quick to fight and quarrel, and a little too proud to accept well-meaning and accurate assessments of our actions and character. We all have room to improve. None of us are entirely innocent.
And I feel likewise torn between a desire to comfort and encourage those who are unfairly targeted and also to provide some much-needed and very unpleasant reminders that the way things look like they are going we are going to have to be a lot tougher. I feel as if there is blood in the water, and as if there will soon be blood in the streets, and I see no way the day of reckoning can be stopped for long, and so I wonder why people are despairing over comparatively minor matters. If they think this is bad, they haven’t seen anything less. We’re just getting started–you’re going to have to be a lot stronger to face what is coming next. And so will I.