One of the things we talk about with our kids repeatedly is the importance of being a good friend to others. One slice of being a good friend means reaching out to those who are looking for a friend and being kind to those who others are not kind to.
If someone is being bullied on the playground, we tell them that it’s their special job to be a good friend. We talk about what it may feel like to be excluded or to feel lonely. While each of our kids has a different level of empathy, compassion, and courage to reach out on a consistent basis, in general I think they are the kind of kids that look out for others.
We also want them to be in a habit of standing up against bullies– not only for themselves- but for others around them as well. We talk about how this might look like speaking up when others are name-calling. Or if they see another kid getting kicked or hit, they would intervene with words, and if that doesn’t work, to tell an adult in charge. We talk about how all kids deserve respect and kindness simply because they are humans. Our school calls this being an ally.
I also think being an ally is a part of Kingdom-living.
Several groups of people have been being bullied lately — from podiums, news desks, churches and school yards. It’s incredibly discouraging to me. I often wonder what I can do from my place in the world as a SAHM. Sometimes signing online petitions and posting thought-provoking Facebook updates are as creative as I can get.
But then as I thought a little bit harder, I realized that in all of these “real life” situations of bullying, there are bystanders and peers and colleagues and family members. We all have situations in our lives, both big and small, where we can act as allies to those around us.
So, how do we stand up for others in our everyday lives?
1. Speak Up.
Commit to speak up for those in our nation and our communities who are being bullied. Not sure what I mean? Adult bullying looks a lot like child bullying- name-calling, shaming, excluding, and verbal/physical/spiritual abuse.
Challenge stereotypes. Challenge others’ prejudices. Challenge others to think through their thoughtless words and attitudes. We don’t have to be jerks- in fact, we can be really loving and gracious. But, we have a responsibility to lovingly stand up for those who are being bullied.
Call out racism. Call our prejudices. Don’t sit silently. Silence gives permission.
2. Step In.
When you see someone being harassed, step in. You can be kind and gentle or bold and direct– whatever your style is, do that. But don’t DO NOTHING. Step in. It gets easier with practice.
The other night, a man and woman were having a heated argument outside of our apartment. The man was more heated than the woman. Jake’s immediate response was to go outside and be available. He just stood on our porch, and asked if everything was okay. They both said they were trying to work something out, and so Jake stood there another minute to let them both know that he was here and concerned, and then went back inside. We sat and listened until the woman drove away, ready to respond if we heard it escalate.
My response to this situation was to not go outside because it’s NONE OF OUR BUSINESS, JAKE! Fear is often my natural response to these kinds of situations, and this response too often crowds out my bigger values of compassion and love. I don’t know about you, but I need more people in my life to help me be courageous. If courage bubbles up within you, don’t think twice– just step out. Your actions may be just what someone else needs to be courageous themselves.
3. Be proactive.
Smile. Sit next to someone who looks lonely. Ask someone if they want to play. Write a kind note. These are the ways we teach our kids to be a friend, especially to those who are a frequent target of bullies.
Sometimes it’s as easy as that for us adults as well. Smile. Say hi to someone new on the school playground. Ask someone if they want to come over with their kids to play or with their family for a meal. Write a note of encouragement. Proactive acts like this are called acts of love, and they go a long way in providing comfort and joy to a weary soul.
Let us actively move towards the marginalized. Let us not be neutral, but be active pursuers of love.
Note: this post was inspired by Preemptive Love’s 3 Ways to Stand Up for Your Muslim Neighbors by Ben Irwin.