School is the one place that many students feel safe. Unfortunately, Joseph did not have a school to protect him from bullying. Bullying nearly cost him his life.
A safe learning environment is the highest priority of every Adventist school and teacher. Schools in the Atlantic Union have policies to prevent bullying and ensure the safety of each child. Bullying is in the news nearly every day. We cannot hide from it. School bullies, cyber/Internet/social media bullies, workplace bullies, and family bullies are a growing concern.
This is not a new phenomenon. One of the most well-known Bible stories is about older brothers bullying their younger sibling.
Joseph was a cute little boy born to Israel’s favorite wife and welcomed into the family. His father loved him and protected him. As he grew, he was honored with a colorful prince’s coat. Life quickly changed for Joseph. The harsh description of the bullying by his brothers states: “They hated him and could not speak peaceably unto him.” After a few years, on one occasion when Joseph went to take a lunch to his brothers, the bullying was so out of control that the opportunity arose to kill him. A plot was thwarted and resulted in his exile and years of separation from his family.
While this story is often told with blame being cast on the father or even Joseph, the facts are simple. The brothers were bullies. They may have had their reasons—every bully does. But there is no excuse for bullying. As our mothers told us, “Two wrongs do not make a right!”
What lessons can we learn from this story?
First, the Father gives all of us a coat! Each of us has a feature that will set us apart. Someone may hate us for that uniqueness. Someone may envy our coat, our skin, our hair, our money, or our circumstances. That uniqueness often becomes the point of bullying. Joseph’s brothers hated the coat that was a sign of his father’s love.
Second, the one group that Joseph feared the least caused him the most pain. They wanted to kill him! It is hard to imagine how a classmate, fellow church member, coworker, or family member could have an emotion so strong that it causes them to make someone’s life miserable by bullying. Joseph admired and looked for protection from his brothers. But they did not share his emotion. Research shows that boys often bully with physical force. Girls often bully other girls with verbal abuse. (1)
Third, most bullying occurs with no provocation. But we must be ready to admit that some of the anger may be caused by our own words and/or actions. This is no excuse for bullying, but understanding the larger picture can begin the healing process. There is a difference between stating the truth and stating the truth in love. (2) Between the coat, dreams, and circumstances the bullying of Joseph reached a disastrous level.
Fourth, if we treasure the coat, the unique gift that our heavenly Father has given us, it will eventually become our greatest treasure. Bullying hurts for a while but joy can come in the end. If we know that we are an honored child of the King, we can survive. Each child, student, church member, and coworker must know how important he or she is to Jesus. When we know Whose we are, then we can bear the pain along the way.
Finally, we must accept the fact that bullying is a problem. Those that study bullying indicate that 50 percent or more of all children are bullied at some time in their school experience. (1)
It is believed that at least one in 10 (1/10th) are bullied regularly and to the point of making life miserable. The bully is also miserable and is damaging his or her future. Onlookers see the bullying and feel guilt and shame for not preventing it.
What you can do?
Do not keep silent. If you are being bullied, tell someone. If you are bullying, seek help. If you suspect that your child is being bullied or bullying, reach out for assistance. Currently, the North American Division Office of Education is partnering with Adventist Risk Management in the “Breaking the Silence Now” anti-bullying campaign. (3) By working together, we can make all
our schools, churches, and work places healthy, happy places to thrive.
Jerrell Gilkeson is the Atlantic Union Conference associate director of Education and Children’s Ministries.
1 The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), goo.gl/a4AWU
2 E. G. White, Counsel to Writers and Editors, p. 60
3 Breaking the Silence Now—No More Bullying, www.breakingthesilencenow.org