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aaa Bully Pulpit by Kristyn Komarnicki Confession: I was a bully in grade school. I “kidnapped” trembly-voiced Pete’s pet rock in 3rd grade, and left a ransom note. Influenced by the popular book Harriet the Spy, I hid inside the crawling tunnel in the playground and eavesdropped, writing down people’s conversations in order to taunt them with the information later. In partnership with my two friends (with whom I first learned the dangers of triangulation), I created coded language so we could pass mocking notes that helped us feel superior to those around us. I didn’t do much better in middle school. In 6th grade I taunted prematurely-busty Sarah until she wept bitterly. In 8th grade I sneered at oversized, acned Brent, asking in mocked shock why he didn’t invite me to his end-of-the-year wiener roast, my hateful tone making it obvious that I wouldn’t be caught dead at his party. Instead of defending himself, he looked me straight in the eye and simply said, “Why, Kristyn, I didn’t invite you because I didn’t think you liked me.” His statement was true, without malice, and cut right to my heart. I rode the bus home deeply, nauseatingly convicted of my sin, and confused about my tendency toward cruelty. I think I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make up for my early acts of unkindness. The injustice of bullying—whether physical or emotional—is despicable to me as a grown-up. When my kids tell me tales or I read about bullying stories in the news, my belly writhes—in anger for the injustice, in empathy for the kid’s pain, and in deep regret for my own service to the Bully of this world. In the latest issue of PRISM, Margot Starbuck writes, in Just “Kids Being Kids” or Justice for Kids?, that more 28% of teenage students are being bullied at school and that on any given school day 150,000 US children stay home to avoid a bully. This is untenable, of course, and Starbuck explores the most effective responses and how Christians can take a stand and make a difference in the lives of both the bullied and the bullies. Please read it and check out our list of terrific resources to help you and your faith community understand and address the problem of bullying, which is on the rise across the nation. Why was I a bully? This is a question that has haunted me for many years. I enjoyed an almost picturesquely safe and loving home environment. When I came home from school my mother would serve me milk and Oreos, pull up a kitchen chair, and ask me about my day. When I complained about another student, she would always surmise that the child in question must come from a home where he or she wasn’t cared for enough, or listened to enough, or taught compassion enough, or...you fill in the blank. Little did

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she know—and no small guilt came from this fact—that I was one of “those children” and that, in spite of all her efforts to care for and listen to and teach me, I was a bully. A sliver of illumination came to me a couple years ago while attending a reading by a young Muslim woman, G. Willow Wilson. From her poignant autobiographical book, The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam, she read: “We are cruelest to those who remind us of our capacity for cruelness.” A light went on for me upon hearing that. It is true: We don’t like who we become when we are around people we deem different from us, or other, so we punish them for it. Wilson is writing from the context of Christians and Muslims in Egypt, but I think her observation is applicable in any human context. “This is the heart of the clash of civilizations,” Wilson writes, “not the hatred of the Other, but the self-hatred produced by the Other.” Self-hatred is right. I loathed myself—all my feelings and impulses—when I was with a kid who was off-putting or felt vulnerable to me in some way, so I took it out on the kid for making me feel the discomfort of my sin. It’s that look you see in a little kid’s eye sometimes when in the presence of something even weaker and smaller than himself—a puppy or younger sibling—that tongue-biting urge to crush, to dominate, to make suffer. Today I fight that bully spirit in me the only way I know how, by submitting myself to Christ every day (or every day that I remember to do so). I know that without putting my heart into the hands of the ultimate bullying victim, I simply cannot rise above my own dark urges to dominate and control others, to set myself in opposition and comparison to them. Christ is triumphant. Although crushed, he arose again—with truth, without malice, and with healing grace for all his tormentors. Christ has forgiven me for how I treated Pete, Sarah, Brent, and many others. I hope that, by now, they have, too. (Check out the discussion questions for Margot Starbuck’s PRISM article on bullying, where you’ll find lots of other resources as well.)

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Bully Pulpit