Friday, June 29, 2007

Rethinking Bullying V

What advice can we bestow upon a young person who is suffering at the hands of a bully? How can we, as adult leaders, help adolescents in situations such as these? How did Odysseus handle his terrifying experience in the cave of the Cyclops? In order to address the issue of bullying, we must first examine what effects bullying has on the spirit of the young person.

Bullying, and the fear it induces, can lead to the paralysis of social ability. A young person who is the victim of bullying sometimes finds it difficult to engage others socially. Conversations can become awkward as the victim shies away from social contact due to the fear of being ridiculed, taunted, or harmed in a way that is common to their experience. "Shyness" as a personality trait will often develop as a method to cope with the fear of being bullied. A young person who has a tremendous amount to offer the world may be reduced to a life of self-imposed seclusion out of fear and trepidation.

There is an interesting dynamic at work in situations like these. Young people (and, being honest, we adult leaders, too) sometimes find themselves acting out of fear (i.e., avoiding situations similar to the ones in which the bullying took place) in an effort to escape further bullying. For example, a student who enjoys playing soccer might choose not try out for the team if someone who has bullied or harassed him is also trying out. To the victim, this sounds like a reasonable plan, but looking at the results through the lens of the heart, we come to understand that self-limiting actions such as these have a wilting effect on the spirit. Acting out of fear leads to more fear rather than less. How can we assist young people who are being bullied to make decisions not out of fear, but rather out of strength?

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