When I send my children to school in the morning, I wish them a good day. I hope they will not need to worry about being accepted. I hope they will not be bullied. And even more I hope they will not themselves bully other children. I have memories of both being bullied and myself bullying other children. Both are powerful memories. I wish to share some of them here.
I remember a day in primary school when we played a game called ‘contagious illness’. One of the boys was the ‘source of contagion’. I cannot explain why he was chosen as the victim. I participated in the game eagerly. When the exasperated boy finally lost his temper, he grabbed my friend’s shirt collar so hard that her necklace broke. We made a big fuss about that though we had first done our best to provoke him.
I also remember that my friends and I were contemptuous of other girls in Bible Class. We laughed at them scornfully. We even talked to them unkindly if we happened to meet them biking on the road.
I never got caught about bullying. When I was at school, people did talk about bullying so much, and that word was only used when someone physically attacked another person. Quietly offensive behavior was not even called bullying. I think such low-key bullying is still often overlooked today, as it tends to happen when no adults are around. It is possible to hide one’s insulting gestures and expressions so well that outsiders do not even notice them. Today, it is also possible to exclude friends from social media groups.
My thinking changed after an accident that I had in the spring before my confirmation. My friends and I had gone to spring services in Oulu. I had been acting the role of a tough guy, but this time we were sitting in the pew instead of loitering outside. I was touched by the sermon. I wanted to believe. I remember the powerful feeling of wanting to be part of this flock. The following day, when coming to services again, I crossed a street without noticing the approaching car, which knocked me down.
I was in hospital for a long time. My family and friends came to see me, and I felt many blessing hands on my shoulder. A book written by a believing speaker became dear to me. I even gave that book to the mother of the girl in the bed next to mine, who was interested in my faith. While lying there, I had time to think about my behavior and remember how arrogant and disdainful of others I had been. I knew that was wrong. I was ashamed. That shame is still part of me. I did not become a saint, but during the following year at school my friends and I followed closely any instances of bullying and intervened whenever we saw signs of rude behavior.
As a mother I have told, and will tell over and over again, my children that despising and looking down on someone will deeply wound the other person and will also make a permanent wound in one’s own heart. I have learnt my lesson. When I am told about quarrels between children, I do not hasten to defend my own child. It is best to find out first what has actually happened.
I have also witnessed some situations where a parent has not wanted to believe that his or her child could have behaved badly. In such cases the quarrel may remain unsettled and the parties unreconciled. The guilty party will leave with a burden on his or her conscience. I know that even a nice and well-behaved child may bully others by, for instance, leaving someone outside a group. That child may be able to discuss politely with adults and thereby become accepted as a ‘good guy’, although his or her behavior may be quite different when there are no adults around. Even someone who is considered to be friends with everybody can be a bully.
Bullying and derogatory behavior also happen among believers. As adults we should explain and underline to our children that any disrespectful behavior, unfairness, or contempt is wrong. We should also be models for our children in that we do not say bad things about other people. We should not allow disdainful speech even at home between the family members. It is our duty to love and support our own and other children, so that they will not need to seek acceptance by despising others. And I say these words especially to myself.
Text: Virpi Mäkinen
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original Finnish blog post here.
Raamatun mukaan jokainen Jumalan valtakunnan jäsen on avoin lähetyskirje omassa toimintaympäristössään (2. Kor. 3:2–3). Tämä asia voi olla kipupiste uskovaiselle ihmiselle, sillä henkilökohtaisesta uskosta puhumiselle on korkea kynnys nyky-yhteiskunnassa.