A 68 year old bus monitor in upper New York state was bullied by some middle school students on their ride home from school a couple of weeks ago. Karen Klein was taunted and verbally abused with constant barrages of insults, profanity and outright threats. Though she tried to ignore their jeers, she finally broke down in tears.
The incident might have gone unreported and the bullies might have gotten away with it – empowering them to bully again – except another student captured the incident on a 10-minute cell phone video and then posted it on YouTube. Within a couple of days, it had already been viewed more than two million times.
Four seventh grade boys from the Rochester, NY suburb were suspended from the school and from using regular bus transportation for a year. The boys will be transferred to a special alternative program. They will also have to do community service. The bus monitor did not press charges.
According to Wikipedia, bullying is described as when a person is picked on over and over again by an individual or group with more power, either in terms of physical strength or social standing. Bullies usually pick on people they think do not “fit in;” someone who appears vulnerable.
Bullying is rampant today and it comes from all segments of society. In New Jersey, under the state’s new anti-bullying law, 371 school districts are receiving funds to reimburse them for costs incurred last year resulting from bullying incidents.
One very painful aspect of bullying is that it is relentless. Though most people can handle an isolated case of teasing, name calling or being shunned, when it goes on and on, it can put a person in a state of constant fear.
Studies show that people who are abused by bullies are affected emotionally and sometimes mentally through low self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, stress, depression, and anxiety. Some cases have led to suicide.
Bullies are also at risk for problems. Because bullying is violence, if unchecked, it can lead to more violent behavior. Unless there is an intervention, the tendency is for bullying to take on a life of its own. It is estimated that one out of four elementary-school bullies will have a criminal record by the time they are age 30. No one wins when bullying occurs.
Sadly, the practice of bullying is not limited to school children or gang members. In my work with the Ministering to Ministers Foundation (MTM), I have seen it happen over and over in churches when a small but powerful minority targets the pastor or an associate. The relentless criticism, disrespect, acts of sabotage, or attacks on the minister’s family will take their toll at some point. With loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, ministers become very vulnerable. Then the bullies push them out. This often happens without most of the congregation being aware of what is going on.
I like Scottish poet, Robert Burns’ verse: Oh would some power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us.
In the case of Karen Klein in New York, that gift was a cell phone that recorded the incident on video. Upon viewing his acts of aggression, one of the bullies stated that he could not believe he had acted so cruelly or used such harsh words filled with profanity to an elderly lady who had treated him only with respect. He saw himself as others saw him and he did not like what he saw. It was neither pleasant nor anything to be proud of.
Neither is the action of bullies who attack ministers without cause, leaving ministers and their families as well as congregations wounded, with some never fully recovering.
There’s an unexpected ending to the bus monitor’s story. After the video was viewed by millions on YouTube, someone started a fund to enable her to take a well deserved vacation. Though the organizers had in mind about $5,000, the fund has exceeded $600,000.
Approximately 19,000 protestant ministers are pushed out of their ministry position each year in the United States. Most of these ministers and their families are left to suffer alone and in silence. The bullying will continue unless the bullies are exposed and held accountable.
The MTM Foundation is there for these ministers and we are making a difference one by one. Check the MTM web site at www.mtmfoundation.org to see what we do and how you can help prevent church bullies from wounding our ministers and their families and dampening the joy of the gospel message.