The King James version has Exodus 20:13 as “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The ESV has it as, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” What do you do with a bully? There is also Matthew 5:38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,a] let him have your cloak as well“. Yet, a bully is driven to cause misery, to intimidate and injure a victim. Turning the other cheek seems like exactly the wrong thing to do.
In my neighborhood the way we figured you out was to tease you. We bullied you to understand what you were like when faced with aggression. If you stepped up and won a few fights we liked you. If you let us be ugly to you we shunned you and you became prey. I did not know how to make my place among Eric’s friends and honor my father. My Dad, confessed Christian and red((pink)er) diapered son of card carrying communists, understood the Bible to say that we ought not fight. My Dad is a good man and sincere in what he believes with conviction. When I was young I thought he was evil.
Eric and his buddies lived down the street from me. We all went to the same school from kindergarten until fifth grade. I failed Eric’s attempt to figure me out. I honored my father and refused to fight. That hurt, still hurts.
Eric was my nemesis. He headed up a clique that took great delight in my misery. He was the one guy who I could not defeat without defying my father. Not then, not with what I knew then. These days, if I could talk to my younger self, we’d deflate Eric and be done with him.
I thought then, still feel at times, that what Eric needed was a black eye, a fat lip, and maybe a nice bloody scalp wound. To respect my father rule meant I had to find ways to avoid Eric. I got very good at being where he wasn’t. He and I fought a maneuvering war that lasted through fourth & fifth grades. It felt like a 100 years. Sometimes I’d lose the maneuvering war and have to engage with him. Now I was caught. If I fought I’d piss off my Dad. If I didn’t it hurt. My memory, now colored by time, is that it seemed like every day was a battle. Eric and I did fight once or twice over two years. I lost each time. And my Dad sat me through a long lecture on honoring your parents. Bleh.
I make a lot of noise about mercy. I say that forgiveness is central to the way I live. If you ask me if I’m a lover or a fighter I’ll tell you I’m a lover. Mostly because I figure being a lover is the more socially acceptable answer. There is still a boy in me who’d like to kick Eric’s ass. Am I a lover? Am I a fighter? Do I have to choose? I think I lean more toward fighter, toward warrior. I am not, though the fighter my younger self was. I hold rank in a martial art that teaches non-violent variants of old hand-to-hand combat techniques. Victory is the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. This is not the boy-soldier life of my youth. It is much closer to the grown-ass man life of Musashi with an oak practice sword. The misery of the playground was resolved by moving me to Mullica Hill Friends School. I thought that if I changed schools my days of being bullied would be over. Not.
Brian Sykes, a star athlete at the school, picked up where Eric left off. I taught Brian how to treat me. It took another decade or so for me to learn that our internal battlefield travels with us. Our minions, dragons & demons remain no matter how agreeable our domicile is. Our fight with them only escalates if we attempt to outmaneuver them or ignore them. The misery of the playground will continue until you engage. This is really what Eric wanted. He wanted to engage. He wanted to win. All I had to do is run toward the fight and win. Between defying my father and letting the misery continue I ended up choosing to defy my father.
There are ways to engage Eric, though, that settle it and leave him able to attack. That is the art of war we should be learning and embodying. I’m a loving warrior. I fight for peace. I fight to find ways to transform my enemy so that we can engage and build healthy relationships. Pain is possible, as is striking and grappling. Weapons are used–Musashi’s oak sword and lengths of staff from 6″ to 8’ as examples. The boundary is this: if you are able to continue the fight then it wasn’t violent. Within those boundaries I fight to strengthen relationships and make allies of my enemies. What if, though, you find an enemy who won’t quit. Today is a good day to die for them. This gives us a choice. Do we die and be martyred to protect our principles or do we attempt to destroy the bloodthirst of such an enemy, knowing that if it can’t be defeated we may have to choose whether we live or our enemy lives? I don’t know what I would do if it came down to it.. I’d like to believe I can end it before I have to make such a choice. Between, “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not murder” I tend to agree with those who read that commandment as “thou shalt not murder.” I pray I live a long and rich life before I have to choose. Not very definitive but there it is.
Bullies are not warriors. Bullies want pain. Warriors fight to end it, to end the pain, to regain peace. My twist on it is the setting of a rule of engagement. Victory comes in the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. Defeating a bully comes in transforming his or her heart so he or she no longer hungers for the pain of others. We can do this in artful ways if we are humble before God.