The words which never hurt?

The words which never hurt?

In my forthcoming book about contentment (being published in November by IVP), I’ve described a little of my experience of bullying at school. It was a difficult and raw section to write, but it felt important. I was including it in a chapter about identity, and how the way we see ourselves can be so dependent on how others treat us, how they reflect us back and interpret who they think we are – or should be. The words others say about us can build up a wall around us and start a kind of script in us; one that tells us we are not good enough. We’re inadequate, we’re ugly, we’re useless. You know that old rhyme, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?

No. Not true.

The opposite, in my experience. Words can hurt. Words can cause untold damage, a lifetime of misery. And these kinds of words are still being said to children every day.

Words can hurt. Words can cause untold damage, a lifetime of misery. And these kinds of words are still being said to children every day.

I was reading a post the other day about a child with SEN and their experience of bullying in school today, in 2018. It struck me that sadly, things haven’t changed so much. With all the leaps we have made over the past few decades in human rights, you’d hope that this most basic of them would have been more fully addressed: the right of a child to be accepted and valued. Instead, what I’ve observed in my own children’s education and that of many friends’ children is that somehow, the problem is ever present – and, if anything, worsening.

What is it about our society that allows – and possibly even encourages – this kind of bullying behaviour? Why do children single out other children and isolate them? Why are the weaker ones – physically and mentally – picked on and ganged up against? There’s probably a case for saying it has always been so; that it’s human behaviour to clamber up to the top, no matter who is trampled in the rush. Survival of the fittest, and all that. But, with all we know to be true about the value of a person, why is it still often so overlooked in school environments?

In the UK, PE teachers are still asking kids to pick their own teams. You know that experience of standing on your own while the two teams groan about who has to have you? Stood shivering on a 1980s school field? That. That’s still happening.

You know that thing about attendance awards? The one where if a class gets full attendance for a week, or a month, or a term, get some kind of ‘treat’? That’s happening, now more than ever as Ofsted demands evidence from schools to prove their commitment to increasing attendance targets. But the casualties in this (very possibly well-meaning) scheme are, of course, the weaker. Those who are sick, who miss a registration due to a hospital appointment, who can’t drag themselves into school because their limbs are shrieking in pain because of their ME. Those who keep on repeatedly stopping their class from getting that treat. What happens to these children?

They’re marginalised. They’re isolated. Sometimes, they’re hated.

They’re marginalised. They’re isolated. Sometimes, they’re hated.

There’s a new kind of bullying which is unseen and insidious. Cyber-bullying is on the increase, and can be an even more toxic means of imparting words over people. Words which are said can be left in the moment, to some extent, but words which are written are there to stay. Even those written on apps like Snapchat can be so incredibly damaging, although they disappear they are still seared on the mind of the recipient. And words hurled at kids on Instagram and other social media sites are there for all to see. They are questioning that person’s value in front of an audience of tens, hundreds, even thousands. What effect is this having on vulnerable children and young people?

I’m loath to cast blame on schools, although some are far better at creating a happy, safe space. But schools have to work to government targets, and they often have to be focused much more on academic success, with little room left for robust pastoral support. Children who feel outside the group often feel there is no one to go to, that no one will listen to them. My observation has been that so many times lip-service has been paid when issues are raised, but there is no real change or effort to get to the root of things, and this is is many cases due to scant resources and huge pressure on pupils and staff.

It seems to me that in our frenetic, work-ethic obsessed society, we have succeeded in creating a culture which fosters bullying more than ever. What do you think? Is this your experience?

What do you think we can do about it? Because we can’t sit back and blame ‘the school’ or even ‘the government.’ Perhaps we have demeaned others ourselves, even without realising it. Perhaps we’ve said words which hurt, or isolated someone who is difficult to get along with.

In my chapter on identity, I’ve talked about how fragile our identities are, particularly as children, and how we all need to know at a soul level that we are loved. Accepted. Valued. I believe that in God we are all these things and more; that we are loved outrageously and wildly, and that we have an intrinsic value no words can detract from. I believe also that we can be set free from words which have been spoken over us in the past and still have a hold over us.

I know this because it happened to me.

What do you think we can do about bullying? About careless words and thoughtless gestures? About ganging up and talking down?

What are your experiences of bullying?

The words which never hurt? Why is bullying still so rife in schools today - why are the weaker still being targeted? Click To Tweet Bullying and value: words which are said to us can stay with us, for good or for bad. What are your experiences of bullying? Click To Tweet


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