Since a couple friends I know have had bullying issues recently, my thoughts turned to the bullies of my childhood. It should be noted that one of those childhood bullies I recall is ME. I have memories of being the gossiper--did you know that is a type of bullying?--but I've tried to overcome that tendency and mostly succeed.
A freckle-faced eleven-year-old boy asked us to buy a magazine subscription to support his school, so we now receive the cheapest one on the list, Time, in the mail every so often. The latest issue has an article discussing the difficulties of prosecuting those who bully when the cruelty gets out of hand. I think there is some kind of bully spectrum, rather than clear cut boundaries, and this gray area may be partly why it is difficult for the legal process to protect victims. At what point does bullying become not just rude, but criminal? To me, the difference between the two seems rooted in intent, but figuring intent has never been a strong point of the legal system.
Anyway, here is my personal “bully rating system,"created just now from my head. Please excuse the lack of academic language, and I think sort of it might come from what I recall learning about aggression in my BYU Moral Development class:
- Base level—For example, the toddler who seems always to be plowing down other children who get in his path, but does it entirely out of a desire to get what he wants instead of acting in any form of malice. He is simply oblivious to the feelings of others but hurts them nonetheless in his effort to get what he wants.
- Moderately Accountable—like the twelve year old girl who teased me in front of our peers for my acne. She said, “if we were fruits, I would be a peach, but you would be a cantaloupe.” I think she was more concerned with her own cuteness than my feelings, and while she must have known she hurt my feelings (I cried right then and there), it wasn’t her primary goal.
- Evil—These bullies act for the sheer joy of seeing others in pain. There was one of these in my childhood, a boy from elementary school. When I heard on the nightly news a couple years back that he was wanted by the police for murder, it did not surprise me. Yesterday I googled his trial information and read the court proceedings for his appeal. His appeal was not granted, so 2nd degree murder conviction and life in prison is what he gets. I was quite certain he had, as accused, shot a person. Feeling satisfied and grateful he was now limited in the torment he could give our fellow human beings, I went on my merry way. I suppose I felt mildly pleased/avenged. Who doesn't like to see justice served?
Though I do not think my pleased feelings were a sin, they still weren't exceptionally charitable or Christlike. Heavenly Father has a way of showing me in kind and gentle ways what changes I need to make to become more Christlike. For my daily reading I have been going through 3rd Nephi, and this is one of the first verses I came across the day I was thinking ill of bullies.
So I am praying for that man who murdered--and also praying for any bullies out there whose weapon of choice is "words that wound," (Proverbs 18:8), myself included. Who says New Year's resolutions can't come in April?