Bullies R Us

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Sometimes there is a confluence of events that that makes current issues so vivid and obvious that it is hard to deny divine intervention.

The new film “Bully” just happens to overlap with yet another controversy in response to crude comments from Rush Limbaugh aimed at those who he  disagrees with, and cannot defend themselves (usually women) and another pointless massacre in Afghanistan.

A working definition of bullying might be the ability to force your will on someone else with little or no accountability.

Bullying could conceivably be defined as a primary organizing theme of human history. We certainly see it across our culture, from school yard, to workplace to national and international politics, where unrestrained force working its will in the world.

Unrestrained willfulness wreaks havoc everywhere it goes. We see the lack of impulse control of the legendary “terrible twos”, across our airwaves and our own attitudes.

Bullying across our public spectrum does not emerge from nothing. Bullying takes years of nurturing and accommodation. Bullying, like every human activity, does not occur in a vacuum.

Every act, every attitude, every habit of bullying takes years, and the help, or silence, of many to come into being.

There is such a thing as “bully logic” with two basic premises; “Because I can” and “Who is going to stop me?”

You don’t have to look very closely to see how far we have drifted – or fallen – from basic human decency and common compassion in almost any school, work or public arena.

If there is anything I learned in junior high, it is that bullies are cowards and they cultivate a culture of lying, self-justification and blaming. Parents, teachers and school administrators get caught up in defending or justifying their own inadequacy as they defend or deny the acts of a bully.

Cowardice and brutality dominate human history. Those who are complicit with, who justify or excuse bullying are at least as culpable as any bully.

Confronting a bully, on the other hand, at least at first, is a solitary venture, and by any definition, is an act of courage.

A classic Bible story, a favorite of many, is the story of David and Goliath.

David, as we all know, was a kid, some say a teen-ager.

He is too small for the standard armor of a soldier, and the weapons of a warrior are too large and cumbersome for him.

As you read this story, you can almost sense the gasp of despair as the kid with the handmade weapon steps out to face the giant, the bully of the Philistines.

And bully he is as he taunts the people of Israel. He knows, in fact he literally is living proof, that no one can stop him.

This bully, like every bully, is unprepared for the obvious; every bully, however menacing, is mortal.

Brave New Films

Determination and skill, even of one, is enough to take down a bully.

Bullying has its limits, whether physical, political or financial.

There is something ugly and empty about bullying. Bullying is one of the few things that is purely evil; there is no justification, no rationalization that will stand. It, like perhaps no other human act, is the Fall in action.

We have the choice, as perhaps in every moral dilemma, to act on the side of complicity and cowardice – or on the side of courage.

Complicity and cowardice are far easier, and, for better or worse, you have more people around you, probably nodding in numb approval, but usually sharing a look of mutual shame and perhaps a sense of relief that, this time at least, we are not the direct victim of the bully.

But we are the indirect victim, this time.

If we stand up to the bully, we will almost certainly stand alone – and could easily become yet another victim.

The stain of bullying affects many, but it need not infect us all.

True strength does not show itself by disempowering or victimizing others; quite the opposite in fact.

Jesus made it clear when he acknowledged the brutality and corruption of the religious and political leaders of His time (Matthew 20:25-28) and said that his followers would be quite different – they would in fact, be the servants of all.

Turning the other cheek is only the beginning. Courage is never easy, but we are empty without it. Love always costs. Love costs the giver, bullying costs everyone else.

Courage restores us all, and reminds us who we are.

Sitting Bull, the Lakota Sioux put it this way –

“Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights….The warrior is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”

I have a one year old grandchild. When she sees me, she runs to me and as I lift her up to my chest, I can feel her collapse. She rarely hugs me, at least at first. Her arms are usually spread out, she knows at a gut level that she doesn’t need to hold on to me. I have her solidly. She has found, however temporarily, what we all need; a place of ultimate refuge and welcome.

This is what bullies attempt to steal from us, and what God holds in trust for each one of us.

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

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About the Author

Morf Morford

Morf MorfordMorf Morford is a writer, teacher, word-nerd, 98% vegan, listener, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.View all posts by Morf Morford →

  • Militaristic Matt

    Whoa Whoa Whoa…What is this? Did I just see a quote on Red Letter Christians by an Indian warlord who praised those who fight for others. This seems rather inconsistent. I thought this was a peace-loving blog?

    Let me get this straight. When American soldiers go outside the wire and fight the enemies of America, this blog site considers it a huge travesty or bullying or whatever. (By the way, the pure lethality of the American military is something to behold. Its pretty incredible.) Some of the contributors even hold surrender rallies calling for the end of what you guys consider militarism. (I’m referring to Comrade Shane Claiborne). But if an Indian leader praises his killers then its considered honorable? I’m not seeing how its any different. American soldiers kill the enemies of America in order to defend America. Sitting Bull’s warriors killed the enemies of the Sioux in defense of their way of life. Just seems awfully inconsistent to me. For the record, I’m not surprised.

    I literally laughed out loud reading this and having this blog site preach to me about sacrificing of themselves and showing courage in defense of their fellow man. The self-delusion is widly comical.

    How’s the view from that ivory tower?

    • Doug

      Exactly Matt,

      And Red Flag Christians pride themselves on being non-judgemental – yet here is Rush Limbaugh being attacked. What happened to all the fine sounding ‘who are we to judge?’ Does this make the Church more welcoming to bullies, are we ‘daring to listen’ to bullies ? Who are we to judge ?

      And as you say Matt all the talk about Pacificism here on Red Flag Christians a militarist native American Indian is being quoted as a source of wisdom.

      The more I read of Red Flag Christians the greater the inconsistency and confusion they seem to promote.

      • Kel

        I support Rush’s right to call women sluts and feminazis. You should support my right to call him an old, bloated, out-of-touch, crotchety old bastard.

    • Doug

      Exactly Matt,

      And Red Flag Christians pride themselves on being non-judgemental – yet here is Rush Limbaugh being attacked. What happened to all the fine sounding ‘who are we to judge?’ Does this make the Church more welcoming to bullies, are we ‘daring to listen’ to bullies ? Who are we to judge ?

      And as you say Matt all the talk about Pacificism here on Red Flag Christians a militarist native American Indian is being quoted as a source of wisdom.

      The more I read of Red Flag Christians the greater the inconsistency and confusion they seem to promote.

    • Justin

      I guess I don’t know much about Sitting Bull, but this quote is definetly not militaristic, or encouraging violence. It is an artistic attempt to change the word “warrior” into the word protector or caretaker. The one part ”
      sacrifices himself for the good of others” sounds a lot like Jesus to me (John 15:13 

      I haven’t read the blog long enough to know if it is regularly inconsistent, but this particular blog is not inconsistent with a peace theology.

      • Militaristic Matt

        No, Sitting Bull’s quote isn’t inconsistent with what a rational person would consider peaceful. Sitting Bull was recognizing the responsibility of his soldiers and honoring them for what they do. Even though their job required killing if need be. But for the Red Letter Christians, being a soldier isn’t a good gig to have, at least not an American soldier. According to this site, you can pretty much align yourself with whatever martial force you want to as long as that force isn’t fighting under the American flag for American values. Because Justin, you see, the Red Letter Christians don’t like America. Skim through a couple of the posts regarding foreign policy (they will be cleverly disguised as Christian-topics) and marvel at the inconsistency of this site. Even in this article, the acts of one service member in Afghanistan is portrayed as the norm in order to make American soldiers and marines seem like butchers. But Sitting Bull (a pagan warlord nonetheless) gets top billing here. Because surely we can’t find any evidence of Indian atrocities in history……

      • Bonsall Billy

        The “quote” by Sitting Bull is also a spurious quote. There is no evidence he ever said that, and it is inconsistent with other quotes of his and his actual life experience. Just another typical internet quote that fits on a feel-good meme.

    • Kel

       Here’s the difference, Matt. See, Sitting Bull and his warrior societies were what we call “homeland security.” They protected their homeland from foreign immigrants who were _literally_ trying to kill them off and steal their land (please understand the “literally” part of that before you try to hand me something about Mexican invaders or a third world nation that can barely launch a missile over its own borders, let alone across an ocean). His support was for those who stand up for the defenseless. The American warriors you speak of don’t fight enemy’s in their own borders. They go and subdue smaller, weaker nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, or the Lakota. I think you have David and Goliath mixed up.

      • Militaristic Matt

        International Relations 101 Final Question: Is it better to be David or Goliath?

        And you missed the point. This site, supposedly, is all about nonviolence and all that hogwash. If this site had any backbone at all, they would be consistent. If its unchristian-like for Americans to unleash their lethal potential downrange (It really is cool. You got to see it), then why is it not unchristian-like for the Sioux to kill their enemies?

        And didn’t this anti-bully post say that we should turn the other cheek? So if the Americans were “bullying” the Sioux, shouldn’t they have done the Christian thing and just go and tell the teacher and not fight back?

        • Aaaaaaaaaargh

          Matt–I think you’re assuming that “Red Letter Christians” are some monolithic block who all believe the same way. It’s pretty clear that there is a range of views presented on this site, and the one thing they have in common is that they think outside the box of the traditional concerns of right-wing Christianity.

          Further, you’re jumping over this quote way too much.  Look at the second line: “the warrior is not someone who fights.”  This is not necessarily inconsistent with a pacifist position–it’s redefining terms, a process which is not always particularly successful, but whatever.  Sitting Bull might not be a pacifist luminary, but the quote can certainly be adopted toward pacifist ends.

  • Doug


    You say ‘aimed at those who he  disagrees with, and cannot defend themselves (usually women) ‘

    From what I’ve seen about Limbaugh’s comments he applauds the freeing of Afghan women from the cruelty of the Taliban and the provision of educational facilities for them their. I dont get your accusations of mysogenistic bullying attitudes towards women you accuse him of. Can you elaborate please?

    • Anonymous

      Is he saying that women usually can’t defend themselves?  Talk about a sexist comment…  And why couldn’t these women defend themselves?

  • Kyle H

    This is one of the first articles I dislike in this blog. I work at a halfway house for teenagers and most of them are bullies. I have no doubt about that. However, you have no idea what these guys have been through. Why does a bully, bully? That is what you need to be asking and seeking out. I’m not saying a bully is justified; I’m just saying there’s much more to it than what this article has discussed. It is east to understand why a kid might be bullying when his dad comes home drunk every night or his mom is gone weeks at a time. We need to love the bullies; not chastise them. That’s what we are called to do. Honestly this makes me sad.

    • Kel

       Read the text again. About half of what you are saying here agrees with half of what was in the article.

  • Kel

    As of writing this, there are five comments on this entry. Four of them would appear to support the author’s point.

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