I am writing this on December 24. Tonight, almost a third of the world’s population will celebrate Christmas, the holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus. Christmas has become a gift-giving holiday. This article is my gift to the Christians of the world: an increased appreciation for the teaching of their spiritual leader, Jesus, who provided the solution to bullying, the number one problem confounding modern society.
Caveat: Please don’t make any assumptions about my religious beliefs or lack of such. This is not a religious article. When I refer to religious figures, I am strictly referring to their wisdom, their psychology. Furthermore, I am not a Bible scholar and don’t claim to speak with any authority about its contents. I am merely presenting my own understanding of what I read.
My New Testament quotations below are from an online work called Jesus – a Bible in Modern English by Charles Templeton. It is the version I have found easiest to understand.
I received a traditional Jewish education from first grade through high school (in the 1950s and ‘60s), and we had been forbidden to read the New Testament. Considering that the Jews’ major persecutors for the previous 2,000 years were Christians, I can understand the Jewish taboo against Christian texts. Leaders of a religion that is based on promoting universal love didn’t always extend that love to practitioners of the religion of Jesus (Judaism), though he was born a Jew, promoted Jewish morals and observance, and died a Jew.
About a decade ago, I decided it was high time to investigate the New Testament. I was amazed by what I discovered. First of all, his teachings were Jewish. Secondly, he perfectly understood and taught the solution to bullying. He'd been teaching it a full 2,000 years before me! Of course, these teachings are not limited to Jesus. They were also taught by the Buddha, Confucius and Aristotle. In fact, all wise people who know the path to peace teach the very same things. These teachings can be summed up as The Golden Rule. I don’t know if anyone, though, spelled out the solution to bullying as unambiguously as Jesus. As I will be showing shortly, it is found in the Sermon on the Mount, the compendium of Jesus' moral teachings.
Ironically, the modern world, including the Christian, is desperately searching for a solution to bullying but is getting nowhere. Bullying is being called “an epidemic” by bullying experts despite the fact that society has been implementing those experts' recommendations for the past 13 years (since the Columbine massacre) and even mandating them by law. “Anti-bullying” (I think it is more accurate to call it “antibullyism”) has become a modern secular religion enthusiastically embraced by all of society, including Christians, despite the fact that it is the antithesis of what Jesus taught. If antibullyism were consistent with his teachings (as well as those of all teachers of peace, of course) it would be successful.
If Jesus taught the solution to bullying, why then are Christians not using it? It's because they don’t recognize it. Jesus never said, “The following is the solution to bullying.” But it can be inferred from the Sermon on the Mount, which begins by acknowledging the suffering of the downtrodden and encouraging them to follow his instructions, which will enable them to “inherit the earth.” In other words, it is the way for the powerless to become the powerful.
His instructions are completely different from the teachings of antibullyism. He doesn’t teach us that if we are victims, other people need to change. He puts responsibility entirely on us. He understood that human authorities cannot solve our social problems for us, and that if our remedy to feeling downtrodden is for other people to change, we have no solution.
Antibullyism teaches that we need to fight for antibullying laws, as though laws can force us to like and respect each other. Jesus is a fierce opponent of the legal approach to conflict. He makes this clear throughout the Sermon, repeatedly contrasting what the law tells us with his own instructions.
In contrast to antibullyism, Jesus does not denounce bullies. He denounces hypocrites, and we are all hypocrites. He says:
"Why are you so concerned about a speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and unconcerned about the plank in your own? The nerve of you, saying to your brother, 'Let me help you get that speck out of your eye,' and there—in your own—is a plank! Hypocrite! Look to yourself first then perhaps you can help others."
Indeed, Jesus recognized that the bullies are not them. They are us.
Antibullyism has been promoting intolerance and even hatred of bullies. This is the antithesis of Jesus’ teaching:
"In the Law men are told, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But here is my teaching: love your enemies. Be kind to those who hate you and pray for your persecutors. That's the kind of behavior that distinguishes God's family. Doesn't God let his sun shine equally on good and evil men and doesn't he let the rain fall indiscriminately on the honest and the dishonest? Treat others the way you'd like them to treat you. If you love only those who love you, what's commendable about that? Scoundrels do that. If you're only friendly with your friends, what is exceptional about that?"
Yes, it is easy to love our friends. The challenge is to love our bullies.
Why do we become victims of relentless bullying? Because we get angry when people treat us badly. (And it doesn’t matter if we express our anger outwardly or try to keep it bottled up inside.) What did Jesus say?
"In the Mosaic Law men are told, 'Don't murder.' They are also told that a murderer must stand trial, that if a man shows extreme contempt for a brother he will be accountable to the Council of Elders and that the man who calls down a curse on his brother is liable to the fires of hell. But here is my teaching: I say that if a man is so much as angry at his brother he is in danger of God's judgement. So, if you happen to be in the sanctuary, praying, and remember a grievance someone has against you, postpone your praying and go and get things settled peacefully. Then, back to your worship."
In no uncertain terms, Jesus instructs us not to be angry. We are angry when we feel victimized. In our anger, we hate our abusers and want revenge against them. But when we get angry, it is we who are engaging in evil. Then our abusers feel justified in abusing us again. To be virtuous, we need to stop being angry with our abusers and make peace with them.
Antibullyism insists that we need anti-bullying laws so that the fear of being sued will make our bullies want to treat us like friends. We conveniently forget that these same laws can be used by others against us, for to them we are the bullies. And if you have ever been a party to a lawsuit, you know very well that it doesn't reduce hostilities–it escalates them. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that you will come out the winner. Even if you do, you will have lost lots of sleep by the time the verdict is passed and the other side will hate you in perpetuity for having defeated them in court. What is Jesus’ opinion about lawsuits?
"If you're due in court to answer a complaint, settle out of court as soon as you can. If you don't you may find that the plaintiff has brought you before the judge, and the judge has sentenced you, and the jailer has put you behind bars. You may be sure that you won't get out until you've paid your debt to the last penny."
In other words, if you have a problem with someone, avoid court like the plague. Deal with your opponent directly. They will like and respect you much more. You’ll save yourself a lot of money, time and misery. And you will be less likely to be left with an enemy.
Antibullyism teaches us that we are not to let anyone get away with any negative behavior. If someone hits us, we must report them to the authorities. What does Jesus teach?
"In the Law men were told, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But here is my teaching: don't even resist an enemy. If someone hits you on one cheek, present the other."
This is not a wimpy teaching. It takes courage to face the one who strikes you without retaliating, and to let him do it again. This makes a profound impact on the striker, who senses your fearlessness. And the nice thing is that he probably won't strike you again. Gandhi and Martin Luther King famously taught their people to take this approach, with great success. Turning the other cheek is not a recipe for losing, but for winning.
So please, read the Sermon on the Mount. It is Jesus’ gift to humanity. Whether you believe he is divine, mortal, or never even existed, the wisdom passed down in his name is the solution we are looking for. He isn’t called The Prince of Peace for nothing.
Transparency declaration: I declare that I do have a financial interest in a company that offers products and services that may be related to the content of my writings.
Author's policies regarding comments: 1. I rarely respond to comments because I simply don't have the time. If I don't respond to your comment, please don't take it personally. 2. Psychology Today has a strict policy about nasty comments. I believe in free speech and rarely censor comments, no matter how nasty. Every nasty comment by adults—especially by ardent anti-bullying advocates—illustrates how irrational it is to expect kids to stop engaging in bullying.