Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Bullying is a national dilemma. Every day thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. While everyone agrees that students deserve to learn in a safe school environment, bullying, over the last decade, has proven to be an intractable predicament. There are many perspectives on why bullying occurs and how it diminishes human beings, but none as compelling as viewpoints of young adults confronting the problem directly, everyday.

If we listen, young adults often give us a window on how and why bullying occurs. They show us ways to confront bullying that turn unsafe environments into generous learning communities that practice empathy and compassion. This includes our children, our grandchildren and the young people in our churches.

Recently, during her spring break, Louise, a senior at State College High School in State College, Pennsylvania and a member of the State College Presbyterian Church came to Pittsburgh on a mission trip with her church youth group. She was kind enough to share from her own experience what she has learned and how she brings her faith to bear on bullying in her school:

“Bullying is just not physically assaulting someone or verbally assaulting someone – ignoring someone is one of the most painful forms of bullying.

When I hear the word courage I always think back to this one quote I’ve heard about it – something like “courage is when you are absolutely terrified of something but you do it anyway.”

I think the hardest place to be courageous for me and for most people in high school is when you’re actually at school, because that where I think people face the most adversity and lack of acceptance. One thing that I like to do that’s hard for me, and that I don’t particularly enjoy doing, but I do it anyway, is that if I see people sitting alone I try to sit with them.

It’s a hard thing to do because my friends will be, like, “What are you doing? Why don’t you come sit with us?” and sometimes people will look at you funny, but I try to do it because the times I see someone sitting lone when I have the opportunity to make them feel a little less alone and I neglect that opportunity. I always feel really bad about it, and after I do it, even if was a little awkward or weird, I always feel really good about myself afterwards.

I sense courage in myself when I see people at my school who are sitting alone or seem like they’re feeling a little bit ignored or lonely, and I take it upon myself to do something about it by talking to them or joining them or smiling at them. It’s not an easy thing to do, because often it’s a little awkward or strange when people give you funny looks, but it’s an important thing for me to do because I don’t want anyone to feel marginalized, especially when I can do something about it.

I think my faith plays a role in my response to bullying, because from a young age I’ve been hearing the lessons, like “love your neighbor as yourself, treat everyone as a child of God,” no matter what other people seem to think of a person or no matter what you’ve been told, everyone deserves to be loved and everyone is a child of God. And then there’s the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.”

If I went to a new place and I was sitting alone and feeling alone I would love it if someone came up and engaged me in conversation. And so just treat everyone like a human being, with basic levels of respect and morality, I think that’s the best lesson you see repeated over and over again in the Bible, and I would like to think that I exemplify that in some small way.

For me it takes some courage to step a little bit out of my comfort zone, to talk to some people who might be feeling a little alone because it’s not an easy thing to do, especially when some other people are looking at you and thinking it’s a little weird or unusual. It’s difficult to do something when you feel like you’ll be perceived as kind of a weirdo. And I think there’s a very specific feeling you get when you know what you’ve done the right thing. I’m glad that I can summon the courage to do that.”

Louise helps us to see at the heart of bullying in school, the creation of, in her words, “a sometimes vicious environment,” in which the kids that don’t fit into conventional teenage stereotypes are ostracized, then marginalized in a culture of silence, often left to sit by themselves, alone.

She has learned from personal experience how awful psychological bullying can be for the person who is ignored and left alone. She shows us how everyday acts of courage push back against a culture of bullying by simply being humane, using her Christian faith, and following the golden rule.

And isn’t it heartening to see the way Louise has put the teachings of our faith to work in her everyday life! May she inspire us to step a little beyond our comfort zone, too.

Do you have a story of being terrified but where your faith in Christ directed and sustained you to do it anyway? Please share it with us.

5 Responses
  • Kevin on March 29, 2012

    Thank you, Janet, for sharing this, and thank you so much, Louise! Even those of us much older need to hear words such as yours at times, to help us step out of our long-established comfort zones. And I love the definition that you share: “(C)ourage is when you are absolutely terrified of something but you do it anyway.” Indeed!

    Bless you both!

  • Janet Edwards on April 13, 2012

    Dear Kevin,

    Back at you with thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Kevin! I especially appreciate the way you take Louise’s thoughts into realms beyond bullying–though applying her wisdom there is important for us all.

    I would love to hear from you about an occasion when you exercised courage in the lovely way Louise describes and you highlight. Do you have a story to share?

    Peace, Janet

  • Kevin on April 13, 2012

    Well, bullying is something I experienced in my youth, so I know that too, but I’m working alone on a creative project that is a huge challenge for me, in many, many ways. My faith, and growing understanding and experience of the meaning of God’s unconditional love, and a desire to share this project with others who might feel some benefit or perhaps experience a personal “aha!” moment with it, is what keeps me moving forward against all odds. My body wants to give up, but my heart and a wish to express justice, equality, and love in a different way won’t let me. Reading the original blog post gave me a bit of an “aha” too, for which I’m grateful. And a needed shot of courage, too.

  • Cristelle on April 21, 2012

    Grades didn’t ever have anything to do with builylng when I was bullied relentlessly for being a geek. Some of the girls who tormented me had grades as good as mine. And religion didn’t have much to do with it either. I think builylng is human nature. That doesn’t mean it’s okay, but it does mean it will crop up from time to time no matter what you do. Prevention efforts will greatly decrease the incidences, however, and positive adult interventions should be used to address it when it does show up.Bullying is a way to solidify a group’s identity, as I understand it. The group singles out one person to be the representative of everything that is not us, and dehumanizes that person to such an extent that they can treat them very badly indeed. Mindfulness that other people are, in fact, people, needs to be taught.The sad thing is that kids who are bullied feel so very alone, even though they’re really not.

  • Janet Edwards on April 27, 2012

    Dear Cristelle,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight!

    I am very interested in how your faith enters into your perspective on bullying. Was it helpful for you in enduring being bullied? Do you think faith can be one way to help teach the acceptance of others that comes from mindfulness?

    I would love to have your refections upon these questions.

    Peace, Janet

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