Over the last few decades, there has fortunately arisen a greater awareness of the scourge of bullying within school settings throughout the United States. To be clear, the awareness is the fortunate aspect, while the prevalence is the obviously deleterious one. In other words, bullying is being exposed for what it is, while the sheer quantity of its occurrence remains stunning.
In a digital age ever more categorized by the trappings of the realm of virtual reality afforded by the Internet and social media, bullying now has an altogether uncharted dimension whereby much of it takes place even outside of a school’s walls. Worthwhile initiatives such as StopBullying.gov and the HRSA’s Bullying Prevention Campaign have brought the dilemma of bullying and its proposed remedial measures to national prominence, leading schools and other administrative societal frameworks to address the issue and seek possible solutions.
Catholic schools, while unfortunately hardly immune from the effects of bullying, are actually in a position to positively contribute to this significant dialogue, yet with an even greater ethos: that of the theological dynamic inherent to the consideration of the sinful nature of bullying, which is opposed by way of a call to virtue as its true alternative. Listed below are four ways that Catholic school teachers, administrators, and other personnel within the school community can encourage their students to not only stop bullying or condoning the behavior of [would-be] bullies, but to likewise deter and dissuade students from otherwise contributing to such inappropriate comportment by encouraging them to seek justifiably righteous demeanors instead. These suggestions are not necessarily programmatic or systematic, but they will reliably help to confront the heart of the matter of bullying: the requirement that we recognize that our neighbor is likewise made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). As such, these recommendations may initially appear to be fodder for cynicism, but an uplifting and optimistic approach imbued with Christian principles is due for consideration, and can yield highly affirmative results in order to facilitate enduring peace in our schools.
- Familiarize yourself, and share with your students, scriptural passages related to the Christian way to approach others. Have your students reflect on these, perhaps in written form, such as in a prayer journal or within the context of a more extensive essay. A few (of the many) passages to consider, in canonical order, include the following (courtesy of the New American Bible, Revised Edition):
- Leviticus 19:18: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up disputes, but love covers all offenses.”
- Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”
- Matthew 5:7-9: 30: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
- Matthew 5:43-45: ”'You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.’”
- Matthew 25:40: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
- John 15:12: “‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.’”
- Romans 12:16-18: “Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love.”
- Galatians 5:22-23: “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
- Ephesians 4:29-32: “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
- 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”
- James 4:11: “Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. ”
- 1 John 2:7-11: “Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. And yet I do write a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
- Jude 1:19-21: “These are the ones who cause divisions; they live on the natural plane, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
- Remind your students of how school is meant to be a safe place. This statement may seem trite, but students must recall that being at school implies being in a secure location, both physically and socially. Feeling isolated, whether through intentional exclusion, is not a normal condition, and there are many support networks available for them, including your school’s guidance office, campus ministry, or another outlet that will allow them to express their concern and to build up positive relationships with others.
- If you notice that a student is, or has become, particularly withdrawn, emotional, sensitive, or similarly out of his or her typical character, speak to his or her guidance counselor or to a school administrator. Your student might be dealing with a considerably concerning situation, either within or outside of school, that deserves attention.
- Pray. Jesus taught us the need to pray consistently, particularly during a trial or set of difficult circumstances: “Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Bullying has been a disordered specter within humanity for a multitude of generations, yet we must steadily recall that Jesus himself knew revulsion and mistreatment at the hands of his tormentors, and he of course has provided us with the epitome of a Christian response – one laden with prayer (read Matthew 27:46 [and Mark 15:34] in light of the extent of Psalm 22 [often denoted as the “Prayer of an Innocent Person”]). Bullying can ultimately only be counteracted with the love which must typify our Catholic educational institutions. After all, as Jesus reminds us: “‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’” (Luke 6:31). And just how seriously does Jesus take our expectation to treat everyone else in a Christian manner? In comparison to this passage from Luke’s Gospel (6:31), how fitting that the version in Matthew’s Gospel, the great “teaching Gospel,” features the added attestation that the Lord holds this Christian outlook to be so crucial that he further asserts that “‘this is the law and the prophets’” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, against injustice, God commands us to have love for others.