Recently, many of the news media have focused on the problem with bullies in school and how to deal with the problem. It’s about time.
The neighborhood where I grew up could be rough. Not so much the street on which I lived but, if one ventured too far, there could be problems.
The schoolbus stop not far from my house always carried with it a bit of danger. The American Legion swimming pool where I spent my summers was a magnet for bullies. I had my fair share of run-ins, split lips, and bloody noses at the sadistic whim of those who liked to prey upon the small, the young, the fearful, and the weak. Until ninth grade.
At age 14, I decided before the resumption of the school year that I had had enough. Before the first bell ever rang on that first day, I had a fight with a bigger, taller guy before the school doors were even unlocked. In fact, that year saw several incidences that forced me to flee or fight.
If I couldn’t reason with the guy or talk my way out of it, I fought every time. When the school thug, who was a 17-year-old freshman challenged me to meet him behind the school after class, I was there, knowing there was no way I could win.
By the end of the freshman year my fear of, and my troubles with, bullies were largely over and remained so throughout high school. Oh, there would be challenges in the days and years to come but, even though I never relished a conflict or a fight, the instigator would be assured of having to pay a high price. If one wanted to go to war with me, war he would have.
Later, I would encounter bullies in the Marine Corps, in law enforcement, in various organizations, and even on church boards. Once, when I was a minister in Colorado, I had a neighbor knock on my door, curse me, and threaten to beat my posterior (words changed for obvious reasons) because of something that my elementary-age son had supposedly done.
I’m sure he was confident I would cower in fear and turn the other cheek. I guess he wasn’t aware of the scripture, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1).
Bullies are all the same. They exhibit such pathetic behavior because it has worked for them in the past. Most people fold in the presence of a bully. I did too until I was tired of getting beat up.
In the book, “Freedom,” the author describes bullies as people who “usually had a father or a big brother who drank or slapped them around ... Later in life a bully puts on a facade, a bluff, and show of superiority ... outside they’re big and tough. Inside they feel weak, rejected, and vulnerable. Bullying others gives them a temporary high. Once that high fades, they go back to their pathetic natures and the cycle begins over ... bullying is ... weakness hiding as strength.”
The author goes on to say that adult bullies will scream at people, use their power to push people around, but will “crumble at any sign of strength.”
He says, “Bullies bring nothing to the table except themselves and their own needs and wants ... they are not the warriors they pretend to be.”
The author of the book is Sonny Barger, former national president of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, a man who knows something about conflict.
Over the years, I have discovered that Barger is largely right. Bullies, whether in school or adult life, must not be tolerated. School systems are correct, I believe, in implementing anti-bullying policies. I believe they err, however, in punishing kids who finally, after weeks or months of torment, decide to stand their ground and defend themselves.
Sonny Barger said that when he encountered a bully he would “act immediately, decisively, and sometimes violently.” Only then would he try to look deeper and figure out what motivated the bully.
Well, Barger was a Hells Angel and I cannot recommend violence. Neither, however, can I recommend getting beat up.
I raised three sons and, if they had to defend themselves I always supported them even if parishioners or teachers were aghast that the kids of a preacher would stand and fight.
Usually there are more civilized and non-violent ways to deal with a bully. However, bullies feast on fear and intimidation. They rely on civilized people being afraid to confront them.
Sooner or later, however, they will push the wrong person. When they do, all bets are off. There’s a little of Sonny Barger in all of us.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]