Adults Bully Too

Lately I’ve been researching workplace bullying. Read into that what you will.

I always thought bullies were a middle-school thing, but apparently adult bullying is pretty common. A Wikipedia search told me that almost half (49%) of all Americans reported being affected by bullying currently or in the past. Maaaan, I thought I was out of the danger zone!

The Health and Safety Executive website says that workplace bullying is “negative behavior being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time.” Pretty broad definition, but they break it down:

  • ignoring or excluding someone
  • giving unachievable tasks, or “setting you up to fail”
  • spreading malicious rumors or gossip
  • making belittling remarks
  • undermining your integrity
  • not giving credit where credit is due
  • withholding information purposely
The Workplace Bullying Institute says stress from being harassed or bullied can cause emotional and mental damage leading to things like depression, heart problems, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Yikes!
My research, and my own experience, have convinced me that the question is not whether it will happen to me, but when. And when it does, what is the mature, responsible response? Is the advice given to kids in middle school appropriate for an adult workplace? And as a Christian, should my behavior be different from what I could legally do?
These are genuine questions. 
As a kid, I was told, “Ignore bullies; they just want a reaction. If that doesn’t work, stand up to them.” But as a homeschooled kid, I had a pretty limited exposure to bullies. Not much chance to practice. 
Now I’m adult in the corporate world, and I sense a pressure to give as good as I get or get run over. Gossip is the norm, and if you don’t conform, then guess what–you’re the new target. “Good Americans” are confident, assertive individuals who would never allow themselves to be bullied, right?
But as a Christian, I’ve resisted this, struggling to know how to respond and remain obedient to Jesus. I mean, He said some pretty un-American stuff on this topic. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matthew 5:28-41)

A person who slaps me, steals my hoodie, and sues me. Hmm, sounds like a bully to me. And Jesus says “do not resist” this person. Instead He seems to advocate a policy of “killing with kindness”, giving good for evil. 
Until this week, Jesus and Corporate America seemed totally out of sync. Then I had a revelation: perhaps “resistance” was not the same as “assertiveness.”
Resistance pushes angrily back when it is shoved. It fights fire with fire, leading to an inferno. I have always known that this was a baaaaaad idea. Assertion, on the other hand, can be respectful and controlled. It speaks the truth in love. It may confront, but it never keeps grudges and it never gossips. 
I am still chewing on this new distinction. How to assert lovingly–and ensure that people know it’s done without malice? How to confront people who have never known healthy conflict? How to break habits of silence and avoidance that have grown over months?

Maybe I’ll do a sequel to this post as I learn more. But in the meantime, I’d appreciate prayer. I have a new appreciation for the hard life of the picked-on. 

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