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A Skyscraper Fallen: on Bullying

posted by Susan Dominikovich on , , , , ,


Face to face with bullying upon the news of Charlotte Dawson's death

Thanks to the example of some friends, overseas, our family has its own top-40 playlist.  Rather, the girls and I have a top-40 playlist, to which Paul has contributed a couple of songs.  My son just rolls his eyes at the very idea of a playlist.

We know the words to most of the songs but we tend to get rather vocal when singing two of them: Demi Lovato's “Skyscraper” and Katy Perry's “Roar”. 

These are popular songs because they appeal to a generation of tweens, girls who love to sing and fantasize about being on stage themselves.  In fact, last year at our kiddeos’ Talent Quest, we were serenaded by four different versions of “Roar” alone.  It's a small school.  There weren't many acts. This song clearly has some appeal.

When our girls, along with every other tween in the universe, sing these songs, they are telling the world, “Go on and try to tear me down/I will be rising from the ground” as well as, “louder, louder than a lion/'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar!”

They are not just tweenie girl songs though.  At the school where I work I have heard the boys “roar” loudly while singing that song in assembly and they are definitely conveying a message to those around them.

And the songs appeal to me too.  Not only are they on our family top-40 playlist, they are on my necessary-for-walking-at-a-brisk-pace exercise playlist.  Not particularly upbeat, but they get me going.  And I roar when I sing too.  Just ask the cows on my route.

There is a reason why these songs appeal.  They appeal because of the world we live in.  They appeal because we live in a world of bullies who want to tear us down and rip us apart and these songs, as well as many others like them, make us feel like we can stand up to it all.

We have a family rule:  do not respond to bullying.  Ignore the bully.  Don’t react.  Walk away. 

We’ve tried to teach our children that this is the best and only response to bullying.  The bully will find another target in the playground if they don’t get a reaction.  There is no sport in it unless they know they are getting to their victim.  Then they will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until their victim breaks, or until the teacher puts a stop to it.  Hopefully the latter.

We probably should have added “and tell mummy and daddy” to our rule.  Sam is our eldest and in our ‘first time parents’ naivety, we assumed he would come home, sit down with a glass of milk and a chocolate chip cookie and delightedly regale us with the events of his little life at school.  In reality, he probably came home to forget. 

During Sam’s third year at primary school, the mother of his closest friend approached me one day and asked, “did you know that Lana* and Sam are being bullied?  And it’s been happening for awhile?  That an older boy is finding them at lunchtime and hitting them?”


When I asked Sam if someone had been hitting him at lunch, he said no.  Confused, knowing that his friend Lana wasn’t the lying type, and knowing that my boy is extremely literal, I rephrased the question:  “is there a boy punching you?”

“Yes.  At lunch time.  Right here, in the stomach.”

And in that moment, I doubled over with the punch right in my own gut.  And it hit hard.  He was my boy.  I was his mother.  It was my job to protect him.

And so we did.  Paul and I interceded and tried to work with the school but in the end we could not be confident that our child would be safe.  The principal understood and accepted our decision as we moved him to a smaller local school which relied more on personal care and communication than on systems that may or may not work.

Sam left the school.  He would never see the bully again.  Our child was safe.  And despite the school’s best efforts, that bully would have moved on to another victim and so on, because that’s what bullies do.  And if not that bully, then another one.  Another bully, another school yard, another time, another place.

Bullies are everywhere.

And herein lies the problem; the bully will look for a victim that will react.  They will move past the ones who ignore and walk away, until they find the one who reacts, who grimaces, who shouts, who cries, and ultimately who breaks.

New Zealand model and television presenter Charlotte Dawson just broke.

Her struggles with cyber-bullying and on-line abuse is well documented.  She moved to Australia in 2007 because “her reputation had been damaged by ‘nasty snipes’ so badly that ‘I can't come back because people don't want to employ me’" (NZ Herald, 22/02/14).  She suffered from depression and was hospitalised after an attempted suicide in 2012.  And today we read in the headline news that she has taken her life. 

Charlotte Dawson broke because the bullies got to her and she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to it.

Sadly, she’s not the first to break from the pressure of bullying, nor will she be the last.  And it’s not just happening in the school-yard.

Every day on the internet, someone thinks it is their right to insult someone else, to take them down a peg or two, to put them in their place.

Every day in some marriages, a man or woman feels it is their right to victimise and abuse the other.

Every day in the work-place, someone is holding their position over another employee as if it is their right to humiliate or threaten them, slander or harass them.

And this.  Sadly, this too: 

Every day in the church, a leader thinks it is his or her God-given right to enforce submission to their authority by guilt or condemnation.  They pursue their own agenda whilst pretending it is God’s authority with which they speak, perhaps even drawing from selective Bible verses and disregarding the context in which they were written.  They control those under them with power and spiritual manipulation.

Not every media user, wife, husband, employer or church leader is a bully.  Let me get that straight before you all head to your computers to condemn me. But it does happen.  And I am particularly chagrined by any sort of bullying in the church because if we, the people of God who are commanded to “love one another” decide that it’s okay to do the exact opposite, then sadly, the world has no hope.

Bullying is everywhere and everywhere there is a victim ready to be bullied.  There is a victim whose own self-talk allows them to believe the lies and punches that hit them in their gut.  A victim who doesn’t know how to ignore the bully and turn away in strength but who cowers and cries, ready for another blow.  A victim who doesn’t have “Roar” or “Skyscraper” on their playlist. 

There will be another Sam.  There will be another Charlotte.

Sam was only eight years old.  I know his story.  He did not deserve to be hit in the stomach by someone who was older and bigger than him.

I did not know Charolotte Dawson.  I do not know much of her story except what I read in the newspaper and I doubt that even touches on her story.  Her real story.  I have never walked in her shoes.

But I know she had a story.  A wonderful, amazing, heartfelt, humourous, tragic and so much more story that makes her beautiful. And I know that she was loved by God and that although she was not worthy of His love, He loved her just the same.

She did not deserve the insults and degradations that she received at the hand of people who did not know her, who tried to tear her down.  She did not deserve their judgment or condemnation.  Sadly, they did more than break the windows of her skyscraper.  They knocked it to the ground and buried her in the rubble with it.

There is a sticker that has done the rounds on facebook which says something like, “you don’t know another person’s journey until you’ve walked in their shoes:  be kind.”  There are a lot of people in the world who have forgotten what it means to be kind.  A lot of people who have never learned or have forgotten that we should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).  A lot of people who don’t seem to understand or care that their hate might have disastrous and tragic consequences.  It seems that until people learn that they do not have the right to judge or condemn another person because they have never walked in their shoes, then they will continue to forget to be kind, and they will continue to wound and scar.

So there will be another Sam.  There will be another Charlotte.

There will be another Susan.

Not many people know my story either.  But some have decided that despite not knowing my story, they have the right to put me down, to show me the errors of my ways, to vilify me, to attempt to tarnish my reputation in our small community.

And so far, I have successfully ignored them.  I have not responded or justified or screamed.  I have not moved to Australia in shame that does not belong to me.  I have not cowered or cried.  I have not been hospitalised.  I have not tried to take my own life.
Don't get me wrong, the bullies have hurt me.  That's the thing about a skyscraper:  lots and lots of windows to break.  Words, lies, betrayals, judgement, assumption--they hurt deeply.  But I've had so much love, so much affirmation and encouragement that a window is barely broken before a whole team of people are up there replacing it with even stronger glass.

It's a team of people who do know my story.  They know my story and we all know it’s a good story.  In fact, it’s a beautiful story because I am a child of God and I know:

          Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
          You formed me in my mother’s womb.
          I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvellously made!
I worship in adoration – what a creation! (Psalm 139:13-14, MSG)

Furthermore, I know I am a new creation in Jesus Christ and as sure of my security in Him as I am of my curly brown hair.  I know my story. It’s a great story.  I know it is, because God gave it to me; and no one can take that story away.

So I will keep writing on issues and expressing my opinions even though it riles some people and causes them to do hateful things.  I will continue to live and work and worship in this small community.  I will keep singing and dancing and playing with my children.  I will keep loving and laughing and expressing in joyful praise my gratitude for this beautiful life I am not worthy of but have been blessed with by a very loving God. 

And I will continue to stand up for justice and I will continue to speak the truth, as Jesus Himself is my example. 

I will continue because I’m sad and I’m angry and I’m grieving for someone I never knew who died so unnecessarily.  I guess she wasn’t as sure of her story as I am of mine.  And I know there are others who aren’t sure of their story either, others who feel like curling up into a ball and making the world disappear, who need to know that God loves them.  And that no one has the right to take away their God-given story.

So I’ll take a stand against bullying.  And in doing so, I’ll take another punch in the gut.  I’ll take it for Sam and for Charlotte and for anyone else not able to take it for themselves.  And in doing so, I hope that I will model what it means to value another above myself, so that my children too will learn to do the same.  Perhaps, when we multiply that out from our nuclear family, we might begin to make a difference.
And it already has.
Late last year, the pro-active administration at Paul's school held an optional meeting to tackle the issue of bullying, particularly of the female staff by the students.  He teaches at a large boys' school and female teachers are a minority so you can imagine some of the intimidatory tactics the boys were prone to using, not least of which the references and comments of a sexual nature.  Anywhere else, this would (I hope) be considered harassment.  I suggested rather strongly that Paul should be at that meeting.  I was pleased to learn that over half the staff attended the meeting, not just the women.  I was ecstatic to hear that Paul stood up and suggested the male staff begin by examining their own professional standards and language and the messages they were conveying to the boys about respect for women.
Was he popular for saying this?  Probably not by some but was genuinely well-received by others.  Was he right to say it?  Definitely. 
It starts here.  One post.  One woman.  Standing up.  And the more people who stand up and do what is right, who become an advocate for the oppressed our modern day widows and orphans, then perhaps we will start to see a change in this world where too often bullies are left unchallenged.
I guess I have broken one of our family rules; I just responded to bullying.  I’ll have to make an amendment:  Respond when necessary and always, always respond on behalf of someone else who can't.

Because they have a great story too

Rest in peace Charlotte Dawson. I wish I knew your story. 
* name has been changed to protect anonymity


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