Columnists Mark my words

It isn’t cool to be cruel

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

There’s a small sign, discreetly placed, in my Leaven office that reads: “Everybody brings joy to this office — some when they enter and others when they leave.”

OK, maybe that’s not so nice, but it sure is true.

In addition to being Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church, October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Because bullying at any age undermines the respect due to every human being, countering this unacceptable behavior can certainly be seen as a respect life duty.

Suzanne Peck, author of “STAND TALL: Lessons That Teach Respect and Prevent Bullying,” lists four main types of bullying: verbal, physical, relational and cyber.

I’d guess the most common type would be verbal, something that almost everyone has experienced. Sometimes, people try to justify this type of bullying by calling it “teasing,” but there’s no disguising the hurt caused when someone comments on another person being overweight, disabled, not as gifted academically or athletically, of a different race, or . . . you get the idea.

Relational bullying, according to Peck, “involves deliberately preventing someone from joining or being part of a group, whether it’s at a lunch table, game, sport or social activity.”

If I was “picked on” as a kid, it ended with the school day. Unfortunately today, there’s cyberbullying. The harassment can continue relentlessly via a cellphone, email or social media, no matter where you are. Extreme cyberbullying has even led people to harm themselves to escape the negativity.

As cyberbullying works on the mind, physical bullying endangers the body. On page 7 of this issue of The Leaven, John Bosio gives practical advice on how to deal with some aspects of this harmful behavior.

Dealing with bullying in a respectful way — so the person being bullied doesn’t turn into a bully as well — demands creative thinking. This story is a wonderful illustration of that:

Hundreds of years ago in a tiny Italian village, a small business owner owed a large sum of money to a loan shark. The loan shark was a demanding and disagreeable fellow who fancied the business owner’s daughter.

He decided to offer the businessman a deal: The debt would be completely wiped out if the loan shark could marry the businessman’s daughter, something the father found distasteful.

The loan shark, however, bullied the father into agreeing to his plan. The loan shark would place two pebbles into a bag: one white and one black. Then, the daughter would reach into the bag and pick out a pebble. If it was black, the debt would be wiped out and the loan shark would marry the girl. If it was white, the debt would also be canceled, but the daughter would not have to marry the loan shark.

Standing on the pebble-strewn path in the businessman’s garden, the loan shark bent down and picked up two pebbles. While he was doing this, the daughter noticed that both of the pebbles he picked up were black! The loan shark then asked the girl to reach in the bag and pick one of the pebbles.

The girl drew a pebble from the bag, but before looking at it, “accidentally” dropped it among all of the pebbles on the path. She said to the loan shark, “Oh, how clumsy of me! Never mind! If you look into the bag for the one that is left, you’ll be able to tell which pebble I picked.”

Obviously, the pebble left in the bag was black. Because the loan shark didn’t want to be exposed as a cheat, he had to play along and forgive the father’s debt without marrying the daughter! (Adapted from “Top 100 Motivational Stories,” by Meir Liraz.)

You go, girl. That’s what I call out of the box — er, bag — thinking.

When dealing with bullying, perhaps creativity is our best tool. I’d start with kindness, calling to mind St. Paul’s advice in his Letter to the Romans: “Rather, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (12:20).

There are many other online resources to combat bullying. Just Google “fight bullying” and you’ll be on your way. This would be a wonderful way to finish out Respect Life Month.

After writing this column, I think I need to replace that “discreet” sign in my office with these wise words of Dave Willis: “Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”

About the author

Fr. Mark Goldasich

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