A mom told me a story a few weeks back. Her son—let’s call him Josh—was being bullied at school by another boy. Josh was not the boy’s only target, but he was one of his regular victims. Josh’s mom also knew that the bully, like many of his kind, was living his own version of agony at home.
Josh would come home from school and complain to his parents that this kid was making his life miserable.
Put yourself in this parent’s shoes. Imagine for a moment your own anger on hearing about your son getting picked on, threatened, made fun of, and then think of all the things you could say.
“Next time he threatens you, punch him in the nose. Just don’t let the teacher see you.”
“That little $%&*! Wait till I see his parents, I’ll give them a piece of my mind!”
“Let’s sign you up for some karate lessons pronto.”
“I’ll go talk to the teacher and find out what the heck she’s doing over there!”
“Get all your friends to give him the silent treatment.”
“Let me get my lawyer on the phone!”
Here’s what this mom said: “Is there one thing you like about this kid?”
Stunning. Instead of latching onto anger, victimhood, or revenge, she decided to put the gospels into action, turning the situation on its head.
Her son thought a while and finally said, “He’s really good at football.”
Knowing that her son and his buddies played football at recess, she asked whether the bully was often chosen for these pickup teams.
“No,” said her son. “No one ever wants to pick him for a team because he’s the class bully and they don’t like him.”
“And do you ever get to be the captain and pick kids for your team?” she asked.
“I get a chance every so often,” said her son.
“So next time you’re the captain, why don’t you pick this kid and see what happens?”
Her son agreed. A pretty brave kid, I have to say, and a kid able to get over his resentments. He chose the bully to be on his football team at the next opportunity.
This started a whole chain of events: Other kids also began picking the bully for football, the boy started getting attention for something besides bullying, and soon the bullying itself faded away.
All because of one sentence we don’t usually apply to people who are doing us harm: “Is there one thing you like about this person?” The mom used her creativity to set in motion a force for good. “The thing is, he’s a beautiful kid,” she said of the bully. She started with compassion and built from there.
Scripture scholars have long said that “Turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) is not synonymous with “Just stand there.” Rather it urges us to respond to violence with creativity. The mom knew this in her bones. She didn’t let her son roll over to the bully, nor did she go the route of retribution. Instead she and her son took the one path that could—and did—lead to healing.
There’s an old saying that faith is “caught, not taught.” I imagine that the son caught a lot from this moment, about what it means to live out his faith and about the woman who is his mom. And isn’t it great to know that the words of Jesus still apply to a grade-school bully in the 21st century?
—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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