by Wendy Romano
Two recent events took me back to my high school experiences with bullying.
Last month Lena Rawley, 17, of Montclair won the grand prize for her essay on bullying in a contest sponsored by Nicholas Kristof, of The New York Times (The Winning Essays on Bullying Are …). Lena artfully lifted the cover off the bullying behavior of teenage girls in sharing her experience and triumph. (Read Lena’s essay here)
And Dharun Ravi was sentenced and is serving time for surreptitiously videobroadcasting his roommate, Tyler Clementi. Because of Tyler’s tragic death, the sentence elicited a wide range of responses – from outrage to compassion.
I was pretty self-confident in high school, so I regretfully admit that I criticized and ostracized other kids almost as much as some others tried to intimidate me. In one instance it even got physical and, although I felt trapped and scared, I was able to stand my ground.
But they knew how to get me where it hurt the most – my passion for music. One final experience forced me to rethink everything, and eventually I arrived at a place of compassion for victims and perpetrators.
Only a few months left of high school, graduation in sight, someone stole the musical instrument that was being loaned to me by the school – my voice; my future. I thought for sure I knew who had it – my primary nemesis. But no one saw it happen; no proof. Besides my emotional devastation, this put my family in a bad spot. If it wasn’t recovered, my parents would have to replace it, which meant they wouldn’t be able to afford one for me to take to college. Fear, anger and frustration loomed over my summer.
My family regularly attended church, and in Sunday School I had been learning about God loving and caring for me and my family.
What was more difficult for me to accept was when my Sunday School teacher pointed out that God’s love is all-inclusive and embraces everyone, even the person who stole my instrument. Through our conversations I came to understand that unkind or hurtful behavior is never justified, but can be a response to feeling alienated, insecure, or having been hurt. Could those circumstances make the thief a victim, too? I wondered. Taking that into account, I could feel almost as bad for him as for myself. I was learning to do what Jesus told us to do – “… love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27, New Living Translation)
Eventually, I could also admit that, although it was a strange way of showing it, everyone (including the thief) wants good in his life, which includes fairness and honesty. Thinking along these lines softened my judgmental attitudes and made me more considerate of others. I gradually found myself feeling that this person was as entitled to good as I was. I was learning the importance of some other common words of wisdom found a little further on, “Do for others as you would like them to do for you.” (Luke 6:31, New Living Translation) To me it meant that I needed to include him on equal terms.
Some time in mid-August we learned that the instrument had been returned to the school. A Mom found it when cleaning her kid’s room. We were never told who took it, but by that point it didn’t matter so much. In addition, one of the local military bases was selling surplus musical instruments and we were able to buy one at an amazingly low price in time for me to start college in September.
Bullying comes in many forms and degrees (including my stolen instrument) – among adults and children. All of us can help put an end to it. Those Biblical words aren’t just clichés. By praying and thinking deeply about these instructions, I learned to be more considerate and compassionate of others. In the years since high school I have found that by including and respecting others and treating them in the same way that I want to be treated, arguments have been defused, differences have been resolved, and friendships fostered.