Bullying seems to be the “topic of the day” lately. Whether the news comes from the classroom, the shopping mall, the football field or the halls of government, bullying appears to be a national, if not an international problem. The Department of Education has even identified four types of bullying—Physical, Verbal, Covert & Cyber—just to make sure we understand where the bullying is occurring.
While I am certainly concerned about bullies and bullying, what concerns me more is the silence of those who know of or watch any type of victimization taking place and do nothing to stop it. Why do people sit or stand by while something they know is wrong takes place right in front of them? How does an adult hear about a bully on campus and do nothing to stop the behavior? Is there a belief that someone else will speak up? Are people afraid that the bully will turn on them?
The Torah tells us that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to not stand by while others are threatened/lo ta’amod al dam re’echa. (Lev. 19:16) Interestingly, the word re’echa means neighbor, not Jewish neighbor, but any neighbor. We have a responsibility to take care of any person we see in trouble.
I was recently riding on a crowded city bus. At a regular stop, while some extra people tried to board, a young adult passenger near the middle of the bus took great offense to the additional “crush.” He SHOUTED his displeasure using highly offensive language. After 10 minutes of this (it was a long bus ride) an older woman, LOUDLY yet politely, told the young man to please stop using such offensive language as there were small children on the bus. As the young man began to argue with the woman, a younger woman carrying a child said, “This woman is speaking for me and my child, and I appreciate it.” The young man promptly stopped speaking.
What would you have done in that situation? Should we sit quietly by and tolerate rudeness, bullying, violence or intolerance? The world can feel frightening and overwhelming, but if we do not stand up and stop this behavior when we see it or learn of it, who do we think will do it for us? Perhaps this is what Hillel meant when he said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” –Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Here are some excellent books to help discuss standing up for ourselves and others with our children:
Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. © 1991. Candlewick Press. Ages 3-8.
The lazy farmer stays in bed all day reading his newspaper, watching TV and eating chocolates. The farm’s Duck cooks and cleans, takes care of the farm’s animals and plants the field. After watching all of this, day after day, the other animals decide, “Enough is enough!” Taking matters into their own, well…hooves, wings and teeth, they “take care” of the lazy farmer, and then take care of Duck.
Llama Llama and the Bully Goat written and Illustrated by Anna Dewdney. © 2013. Viking. Ages 3-8.
An excellent addition to the Llama Llama series, here little Llama and friends meet a Gilmore Goat in preschool and must teach him how to behave in a nicer way. Bullying will not be tolerated by this crowd and they know what to do about it!
Say Something by Peggy Moss. Illustrated by Lea Lyon.
©2004. Tilbury House Publishers. Ages 5-10.
A young girl sees several students who are picked on by others at her school, but says nothing. When the day arrives that she becomes the one being picked on, she decides to make some changes to her behavior.
Weird! Tough! and Dare! by Erin Frankel. Illustrated by Paula Heaphy.
©2012. Free Spirit Press. Ages 5-10.
Three separate, yet connected, books each told from a different perspective. In Weird!, We learn what it is like to be bullied. In Tough!, what it is like to be the bully. In Dare!, what it feels like to be an unwilling participant in these interactions. Accompanying discussion questionsand actrivities bring each story closer to home and connect them to the reader’s real life experiences.