"A bully is fearful, and fear is always the enemy of goodness, and so it is the enemy of love and peace."
Pope Francis has addressed the problem of bullying several times during his pontificate. He sees it as yet another example of using a type of power to diminish the dignity of a “smaller” one, and speaks out against it forcefully, even calling it the work of the devil, “because it is the devil’s work to attack the weak.”
Last November, during his trip to Tokyo, he had the chance to speak at length about bullying, during his meeting with young people. Francis responded to the issue presented by a young man who recounted his own experience of bullying, when he moved to Japan from the Philippines as a fourth grader, and was bullied for being different, for his weight, and other issues.
The Holy Father pointed out that in fact, it is the bully who is trying to escape his own fear. He urged young people themselves to stand up to each other when they see bullying occur.
Here’s what he said:
Thank you, Leonardo, for sharing the experience of bullying and discrimination. More and more young people are finding the courage to speak up about experiences like yours. In my time, when I was young, we never spoke about things like the ones Leonardo spoke about.
The cruelest thing about bullying is that it attacks our self-confidence at the very time when we most need the ability to accept ourselves and to confront new challenges in life. Sometimes, victims of bullying even blame themselves for being “easy” targets. They can feel like failures, weak and worthless, and end up in very tragic situations: “If only I were different…”
Yet paradoxically, it is the bullies – those who carry out bullying – who are the truly weak ones, for they think that they can affirm their own identity by hurting others. Sometimes they strike out at anyone they think is different, who represents something they find threatening. Deep down, bullies are afraid, and they cover their fear by a show of strength. And in so doing, take note, when you sense, when you see that someone “needs” to hurt another person, to bully another, to harrass them: he is the weak one. The victim is not the weak one; it is the one who bullies someone weaker because he needs to feel like a big boy, the powerful one, in order to feel that he is a human being. I said this to Leonardo a little while ago: “When they say you are fat, tell them: ‘It’s worse to be skinny like you!'”
We must all unite against this culture of bullying, all of us together against this culture of bullying, and learn to say “Enough!” It is an epidemic, and together you can find the best medicine to treat it. It is not sufficient that educational institutions or adults use all the resources at their disposal to prevent this tragedy; it is necessary that among yourselves, among friends and among colleagues, you join in saying: “No! No to bullying, no to attacking another. That’s wrong.” There is no greater weapon against these actions than standing up in the midst of our classmates and friends and saying: “What you are doing – bullying – is wrong.”
A bully is fearful, and fear is always the enemy of goodness, and so it is the enemy of love and peace. The great religions, all the religions that we practice, teach tolerance, teach harmony, teach mercy; religions do not teach fear, division and conflict.
For us Christians, we hear Jesus constantly telling his followers not to be afraid. Why? Because if I stand with God and we love God and our brothers and sisters, this love casts out fear (cf. 1Jn 4:18). For many of us, as Leonardo reminded us, looking to the life of Jesus gives us consolation, for Jesus himself knew what it was to be despised and rejected – even to the point of being crucified. He knew too what it was to be a stranger, a migrant, someone who was “different.”
In a sense – and here I am speaking to Christians and non-Christians who can see him as a religious model – Jesus was the ultimate “outsider,” an outsider who was full of life to give.
Leonardo, we can always look at all the things we don’t have, but we can also come to see all the life that we can give and share with others. The world needs you. Never forget that! The Lord needs you, he needs you so that you can encourage all those people around us who are looking for a helping hand to lift them up. I would like to tell you something which will stand you in good stead for your lives: to look at someone with contempt, with scorn, is to look down on them, that is to say: “I am superior and you are inferior”; but there is only one fair and right way to look down on a person: to help them to get up. If one of us, and that includes me, looks down at a person, with contempt, it doesn’t amount to much. But if one of us looks down at a person to give them a hand, to help them get up, that man or that woman is truly great. So, when you look down to someone, ask yourselves: “Where is my hand? It is hidden or is it helping this person to get up?” and you will be happy. Okay?
Now this involves developing a very important but underestimated quality: the ability to learn to make time for others, to listen to them, to share with them, to understand them. Only then can we open our experiences and our problems to a love that can change us and start to change the world around us. Unless we are generous in spending time with others, in “wasting” time with them, we will waste time on many things that, at the end of the day, leave us empty and confused; “stuffed,” as they would say in my home country.
So please make time for your family, dedicate time to your friends, and also make time for God through meditation and prayer, each one of us according to his or her own belief. And if you find it hard to pray, don’t give up. A wise spiritual guide once said: prayer is mostly just a matter of being there. Be still; make space for God to come in; let him look at you and he will fill you with his peace.