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A spiritual defense against bullying

From the January 9, 2012 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

© Tim Flach/Stone/Getty Images

Lois Carlson, a teacher and practitioner of Christian Science in Chicago, Illinois, was the guest on this Sentinel chat called, “A spiritual defense against bullying.” Lois has been in the full-time healing ministry of Christian Science since 1975, and has been a Christian Science teacher since 1991.

From Taiwan: Kids are calling me something I really don’t like, and sometimes I’m frozen with anger and left feeling deeply humiliated. How do I pray about this? 

Lois: You’ve helped us to identify what bullying is—it’s when somebody does or says something to you that makes you feel like you can’t be yourself, and being afraid almost makes you feel like you’re paralyzed. The great thing I can assure you of is that right in the middle of the fire is a voice inside you, telling you that you are loved and you are safe, and that you are worth being known. 

When somebody calls us something, or exaggerates some part of our body, or says things that are just so contrary to our spiritual nature as children of God, the good thing is that it doesn’t change our spiritual nature. We’re still just as lovely to God, just as good and useful. It is important that you pray about it before this happens again—if it happens again, since I would love to think that it could be stopped in its tracks right now. When you pray about it, either before or after, ask God to help you hear His voice, because when God created you, He didn’t just let you go like you were some balloon floating off into the atmosphere. God holds on to you, and nobody can change who you are by saying something ugly about you.  

No location: As a young girl I was bullied relentlessly at school. Now, many years later I have a happy, active life. However, at times I still feel bullied—especially by other women. I have a young daughter and wish to protect both of us from these attacks that seem to be so prevalent and even acceptable among women. 

Lois: Your good life gives us assurance that the effects of bullying can be neutralized. This bad, manipulative behavior is really the exact counterfeit of a true sense of womanhood, which comes from God’s great mothering. Think of qualities like patience and intuition, of steadfast love, of nurturing care. These are a very sharp counterfact to the aggression and belittling that we associate with bullying. 

Painful periods in our lives will yield to the reality of God and His kingdom, which upholds and enforces creation in a way that we can understand. Our Father-Mother God, the creator of the universe, never leaves us alone, never leaves us subject to the limitations and hatred of the carnal mind. 

From northern California: What if we find ourselves knowing what is best for others and they don’t follow our lead? 

Lois: If we are going to take a stand against bullying, we have to be clear that we have no pleasure in doing it ourselves. Having a strong opinion about somebody else’s life is a detriment to a real relationship with them. There’s got to be a way to approach them that doesn’t disrespect them, that has a desire to understand, and that remembers their spiritual nature as God’s child. 

Someone who has made a mistake in our eyes needs to know that our relationship to them is not in terms of the mistake. When we honor someone’s identity as the child of God, we are honoring both their infinitude and their spirituality. In other words, whatever appears to be constricted or finite, is going to fall before the infinite expression that God has made in each one of us. 

What I love about Christian Science, almost more than anything else, is that it defends our infinite nature—that just as God is immeasurable, in His goodness, so are we immeasurable in our reflection of that goodness. We’re not the source of it, but we exist to make God known—we exist to make the glory and the majesty of God known. And so, the alternative to telling everybody what we think they ought to do, or judging them according to our view, is to humbly repent, and ask God to help us honor the infinitude that He’s made in a friend or relative. Because our infinitude is aligned to God’s omnipotence, each of us has, in the substance of our being, the power and authority to face down the opposition to our life purpose, whatever it is. 

From San Francisco: Often, young people who are bullies, come from homes where they themselves are being bullied, or verbally abused. Any thoughts on how to break the cycle?

Lois:  There’s a passage in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, on page 491. It says, “Material man is made up of involuntary and voluntary error, of a negative right and a positive wrong, the latter calling itself right.” A positive wrong is the tendency to think that we’re benefited by doing wrong to others, and the negative right is the tendency to put ourselves down all the time—in other words, to think that mentally rehearsing the negative parts of our being is somehow good. 

As much as we’re standing up to aggressive behavior from others, I think bullying really requires us to stand up to the mental tendencies in our own thought to put ourselves down. 

Are we always belittling ourselves for being fat, or not good enough in some area? In other words, are we keeping track of our negatives, instead of admitting this great beauty that God has made in us? Our only hope is that our Father-Mother God intends for us to know what God has created in us. This includes the full strength and authority of the masculine qualities as well as the full beauty and purity of the feminine qualities. 

From Germany: There are situations in which there seems to be a legitimate form of bullying. For example, many superiors think they have the right to treat other employees disrespectfully. 

Lois: That aggressive nature is not natural to man. Man’s purity, his goodness, his ability to love, can’t be canceled. And when I say “man,” I’m referring to both men and women. Just as we want the victim of bullying to know that something else is going on for himself, to protect him from the attack, so we want the attacker to know that there’s something better going on, so they don’t have to act out the attack.  

It’s agony to be mean—it’s agony to act in a way that’s foreign to your own spiritual nature. It’s just like any other form of sensuality—it feels so entrapping because it makes you feel finite, when you’ve actually been designed to be this infinite expression.

From New Hampshire: My boss can be so mean. She treats her staff like we’re incompetent, and it feels like she sets us up to fail. The workplace is stressful, and you never know when she’s going to yell at you in front of everyone.

Lois: The great news in a work situation, or a marriage where somebody appears to be bullying, is that we don’t get our thoughts of that person from the person. We get our thoughts about others from God. God has declared this beautiful child of God to be useful, innocent, able to love, and to be loved. I think that last point about being willing to be loved is such an important ingredient here, because where the bully acts like he or she wants to be in charge, bossing everybody around in an awful way, ultimately, what each of us is yearning to experience is the reality of being loved. 

That ability to be loved is imprinted from the beginning—it’s part of our origin. We’re each being invited to think from the basis of God’s love for us, so that we can really understand that we aren’t creatures living in confined environments, forced to react to each other like chickens in a coop, or some untoward, unhappy captivity. We’re living in God’s kingdom, and we’re free to express that divine law without interruption. 

This is true, not only for ourselves, but it’s true for the person who’s speaking ugly. If we defend our own right to speak, and think, and write, and feel like ourselves, we can learn to do that for others, so that right where you think your individuality is being crushed, you can defend the individuality of the perpetrator. 

Because we are endowed with dominion, just like God said in the first chapter of Genesis, we are endowed with the authority to face down the opposition to our own life purpose. 

From Los Angeles: Is it absolutely required to see the other person that is doing the bullying in the Christ light to have a healing? Is this more important than seeing ourselves in the Christ light? 

Lois: Seeing ourselves in the Christ light is foundational to seeing the perpetrator in the Christ light. When we understand why we don’t deserve to be bullied, we understand why the bully doesn’t have to act out this behavior, which is ignorant. We can’t associate any logic with the cruel behavior. To admit that you express the love of God for creation is what prepares you to admit that the other person loves, just as you love, because they have been loved by God.

From Bournemouth, England: How do you pray if you know someone close to you is being bullied, and you want to step in, but if you do, the bullies will bully you too?

Lois: What I love about God and His guidance is that God speaks in a way that cuts through the complexity and the so-called “logic” of the human mind. God intends, not only for us to know ourselves spiritually, but for us to know others, and that divine law—we can think of it as the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, moving to awaken people out of the rut—cannot be stopped. We use the word Shepherd for God. The shepherd provides the food, and the water, and the shelter—the safety—but most foundationally, the shepherd keeps the flock moving around the countryside so that they don’t overgraze and destroy the grass. The grass needs to regrow so it’s there the following season. 

I love that sense of the shepherding influence of God protecting us from the mental rut. Many times when I’ve felt hypnotized by a situation, I’ve just stopped and said, “Father-God, if you don’t want me to be stuck in this mental rut, please give me something else to think about.” And, either something will come right away, or I’ll be prepared to hear something new, but God will not tolerate mental muck.

From the United States: Don’t you think that in order to break the cycle of bullying, parents need to not model bullying in the home? So often, one spouse bullies the other. 

Lois: Yes, the same is true for teachers and employers. If we want to receive greater respect, we have to live with greater respect for each individual. In marriage, each spouse learns from the strengths of the other. The expectancy of seeing someone’s goodness is a very powerful ingredient. 

After my first husband passed on, and the children and I moved to Chicago, we were just completely out of sorts with each other. I suppose it was because we were dealing with a lot of change at the time. What had been such a happy, tender, intimate kind of parent-child relationship was turned into obstinacy, ugliness, and willful disrespect. I knew it wasn’t the children’s voice—but we needed something tangible to help us through it, and it came to me very strongly one day that we needed a cat. We needed a pet so that it could be the central object of our affection. 

Sure enough, one came to us very sweetly through my son’s music teacher. It was so beautiful for us to relearn tenderness, and to actually be able to reinforce it in each other. It seemed like part of the bad behavior was that it kept feeding on itself, but the uniting love of this innocent creature was such a beginning to us, reclaiming the love. 

We had several problems, outwardly, to solve that year, and they were solved through the grace of God. But I know that we have to take a stand for tenderness, and grace, and good humor in our homes, and God will guide you, just as specifically as He guided us.

From Manhattan Beach, California: How do you deal with people in your office who are rude to you, and don’t like you, even though you are nice and courteous? 

Lois: We can’t afford to be naive about the human mind. That discipline of drawing deep within your own relationship to God is the thing that, ultimately, will trump the bad behavior in others. You do have to be careful, because your kindness to a bully may exacerbate the situation, and it may also make them think that they have more power over you, which they obviously don’t have. The good thing about God is that Truth and Love are the same thing, and they’re together. 

When you honor somebody’s place in the kingdom, you’re aligning yourself to the truth of God, and that truth of God will lead you wisely into how you can be true to yourself and act in a way that won’t exacerbate the problem. I know for me, when I’ve had to deal with that kind of thing, it was important to keep my distance from the person until the healing came, and I must say that it’s a powerful healing when those rifts are healed. 

From Chicago: I’ve been picked on, insulted, and made fun of all my life. How do I get my self-esteem back?

Lois: You have a right to revive your life according to the good that has happened. A friend of mine who’s a beekeeper told me that one worker bee only produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. The tendency is to belittle what we do, and the good news is that you don’t get your thoughts about yourself from other people—you get your thoughts from the majesty of God’s love for you. 

It’s a very powerful prayer to ask God to teach you to know yourself the way He knows you, because He doesn’t see you in terms of the cruelty. He sees you in terms of your authority over the cruelty. The tiny bits of good in your life are actually aligned to the divine Principle of all good, and that’s what enables you to make your contribution to society, even if it’s very modest. It’s just like, every raindrop counts, every ray of light counts, every bee contributes to the jar of honey!

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