When my wife and I walked into the small darkened theater I saw something that has been as unforgettable to me as the film we were about to see. Scattered and spread out among the many empty seats, a few parents sat with children in a manner that, as I recall, looked more like a visit to a doctor’s office than to a Saturday afternoon cinema.
The film, Bully, a 2011 documentary about bullying in US schools was far more than I expected. Released in theaters on March 30, 2012, the film follows the lives of five children who experienced at bus stops, in school buses, classrooms, locker rooms and bathrooms, the kind of ridicule and assault that held them in daily fear, and, when discovered, broke their parents hearts. The stories focus on two children who eventually took their own lives, and left their parents with a desperate desire to give their silenced children a voice that will make a difference for others.
Some of the most provocative moments came not only as bullied children were personalized, but as it became apparent that the adult community claimed helplessness in the face of the fact that children can be cruel.
My guess is that the parents and children in that darkened theater around us all had their own story.
Over the last few hours, my mind has gone in many directions. Scattered thoughts have been a reminder that bullying (i.e. aggressive behavior that uses force or coercion to humiliate and exploit the weakness of others) isn’t just an evil of childhood.
We’ve been talking about the story of Job who, in a sense, was bullied not only by a powerful, self-absorbed enemy, but also by friends who ganged up on him in his weakness—to defend their own defective view of God and life.
If that seems like a stretch, there is the Philistine giant Goliath who successfully bullied the armies of Israel until a little boy came against him in the name of his God (1Sam 17).
Israel’s King Ahab and his wife Jezebel used their power and royal wealth to grab the vineyard and destroy the life of a little man named Naboth (1Kings 21).
Then there’s the prophet Nathan who even had to confront “a man after God’s own heart” with a story of a rich man who owned large herds, but who used the pet lamb of a poor man to feed a house guest (2Sam 12:1-14).
You will probably think of other examples that reflect a heartless disregard for others in an effort to prop up ones own sense of entitlement or false pride.
What took me apart as I watched the movie was to see how easy it is to ignore, to rationalize, and even to morally justify the swaggering, posturing, and misuse of power that does so much damage to others—and to those who love them.