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October 23rd, 2010
06:00 AM ET

My Take: Love is the answer to bullying

Editor's Note: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Kingsbury is America’s No. 1 inspirational novelist. Dubbed the Queen of Christian Fiction by Time Magazine, Karen has written more than 50 of her Life-Changing Fiction ™ titles and has nearly 20 million copies in print.

By Karen Kingsbury, Special to CNN

Can you see him?

The figure of a lonely kid straggling down the hallway, hunched over, hiding behind the bulk of his backpack. Hair in his eyes. He passes the jocks, the cool kids, and someone spots his flute case, the one tucked under his arm.

“Look at him,” one of the guys sneers. “Here comes the flute player!”

A round of cruel laughter ricochets down the hallway. “Flute player?” another guy makes a face. He jabs his friend in the shoulder. “You know what I hear? Flute players are queer.”

The lonely boy moves a little faster, willing himself to disappear. You can do this . . . just get past them . . . get to class.

“Hey wimp!” The shout comes from the biggest one. “Where you going? Lookin for another flute player?”

From the opposite direction, four pretty girls walk together. They start to giggle, stopping to bat their eyes at the big-shouldered boys. In unison they turn and scowl at the shadowy figure, the outcast. The flute player.

I see him.

I named him Michael Schwartz in my novel Unlocked that releases October 12 – in the midst of National Bullying Prevention Month. Unlocked is about autism, and the miraculous power of friendship. Michael is not a major character in my book and he would not be a major character in life.

Kids that are bullied never are. Not until they become a statistic, a headline in a newspaper, a reason to shake our heads and wonder what in the world we are doing wrong if our kids are jumping off bridges and hanging themselves and putting guns to their heads instead of facing their reality.

Michael was a nice kid. Split his time between his divorced parents’ houses, played flute for the school orchestra, did his homework, kept to himself. Kids at school knew Michael was being bullied, but they did nothing. They said nothing. Better to laugh along with the bullies than have them turn on you.

Bullying is epidemic today.

Insecure loud-mouth kids willing to get attention at the expense of someone else – someone different, an easy target. In today’s social media-centric world, bullying has advanced far beyond mocking in the hallways or being left out in the lunchroom. Today it lives in a cyber world. It’s a live-video feed on Twitter or a text message spread like a bad virus among a teen generation whose prurient interest knows no bounds.

As Michael came to life, I read case studies and watched Youtube clips on kids who didn’t make it out of their bullying nightmare. I checked out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources page on bullying and found thoughtful messages.

Carefully crafted cartoon webisodes and tipsheets and PSA’s for kids who are victims and their often helpless parents. Lend a hand . . . take a stand. Tenets our kids would do well to adopt.

But still, very clearly, something is missing.

In a culture saturated with graphic imagery and sensory overload, and set against a political and entertainment arena that has consistently devalued life and faith, it seems our youth have reached a chilling conclusion – a mantra no public service announcement can quickly fix.

Very simply, our kids don’t care.

The answer is one you won’t find on any of the anti-bullying websites. For me the answer is love … it’s been the answer all along and it comes from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us to love one another . . . to consider others better than ourselves. The greatest commandment, He said, is to love.

It’s trite and clichéd at this point in the discussion to cast aspersions at the church, accusing believers of being intolerant and the general cause of all meanness. Exceptions exist, but I live and work and move among people who claim faith in Christ, and I can tell you this:

For the most part, they know how to love.

They accept weaknesses and imperfections in themselves and others, and allow an overriding dose of God’s love to define them and their purpose. The command of Jesus to love one another is needed more today than ever. Love one another as I have loved you, Jesus said. And so we should.

Michael Schwartz lived only in the pages of Unlocked. He lived there and he died there because no one at his high school cared enough to love him. It’s time to live out our faith, the faith this nation was founded on.

Maybe in an era where kids are dying for lack of love, we might together revere a God who taught us this simple truth.

Love one another. For now these three remain . . . faith, hope, and love.

But the greatest of these is love.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Karen Kingsbury.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Culture & Science • Opinion

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soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Mary Jessie

    I agree with Karen. Love is the answer. Love is all we need. God loved us and asks that we love others. Treat others as we wish to be treated.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Mary

    God is love and love is the answer

    October 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  3. S Thomas

    So true. Thanks for publishing! God can help us love one another.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  4. Bettie Huntley

    I read Unlocked and it breaks my heart to know that this bullying is happening in our schools. How sad that not enough is done. I hope everyone will read Karen Kingsbury's word and remember them. We need to show a lot of love and everyone needs to stand up to this behavior! Thank you Karen for making everyone aware!

    October 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Sonja

    Very thought-provoking words from an intelligent, loving, and wise woman. May it challenge us all to take a look around us and see the faces that pass by us everyday. People who need love.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  6. jill

    Thank you, Karen, for using your voice to address a serious issue in our culture today and for showing the world that the answer is LOVE.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  7. Kat

    Some of the first responses were so sad... I am amazed at how people take an article about bullying and insult the author when she is talking about love being first and foremost. Karen is one of the truly most loving, non-judgmental people I know. Anyone being mocked for ANYTHING is wrong and is a form of bullying whether you are an adult, a kid or someone posting their opinion. Sometimes it just takes one mean person or remark to push someone that has been deeply hurt. Love IS the only answer... when we love one another we value them as a person regardless of how different they are. Grow up people and respect each other's differences, faiths and opinions. Thank you Karen for your heartfelt honesty on this subject.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  8. Lisa

    Amen Karen!

    October 23, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Barbara Denny

    I'm a teacher in an elementary school and we deal with bullying on a daily basis. Some cases of course more serious than others. Lack of respect seems to be a contributing factor in all these cases: lack of self respect, lack of respect for others and lack of respect for authority. We need to take a close look at our culture and examine how desensitized we all have become due to the explosion of violence in the media. Very few people seem to have well-defined ideas about what is clearly right and wrong anymore. Human life does not seem to be valued. Our children seem to have lost the ability to feel and or show empathy. Those of us who care about what is happening in our schools to our children, need to unite and develop strategies for helping to solve this problem. I for one believe, like, Karen Kingsbury that showing love like God shows toward us is the answer. Thank you, Karen, for speaking out on this subject.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Carolyn

      I agree, Barbara. I teach in an urban middle school, and kids are cruel to one another on a daily basis. I was pleased the other day when our assistant principal talked about compassion for others on the morning announcements. Too many kids are not learning it at home, so we need to model and teach how to care about and respect others. I am looking forward to reading Karen's new book; I have enjoyed every one I have read, which is at least 20! Blessings on you as you teach! 🙂

      October 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  10. ClayO

    Thanks, Ms. Kingsbury, for putting your finger so astutely on the truth–that the bully AND the bullied need to find meaning for their life as well as the love and attention they long for in Jesus Christ, and that there are those who genuinely follow His teachings who stand ready to help.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  11. Mom of 4

    Thank you, Karen. Jesus is the ONLY way to conquer evil and experience true peace, joy, hope and love in this troubled world. I am sorry for those who have had experiences with Christians that seemed lacking in love. But, please do not judge all of us by this.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  12. Marianne

    Have we forgotten that LOVE is an action word? It is not just that fuzzy warm feeling we sometimes get. Christians, too, have trouble remembering that, and some are too wrapped up in the "me" culture to realize it. Thankyou, Karen, for your challenging and encouraging article.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  13. A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

    will dispatch bullies quicker than a prayer. Pray for them after you knock a few of their teeth out.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • Robin

      You must be or have been a bully! The whole message here is to fight bullying with love, not violence! Our first reaction as humans is to fight violence with more violence, however, if we "kill them with kindness" it usually will stop people in their tracks. God doesn't promise us that our lives will be smooth or that we will not get hurt along the way, but that He loves us and will not give us more that He can handle. All religions no matter what they are live by the golden rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you, not necessarily how they currently treat you but how you would "want" them to treat you.

      October 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
    • A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

      @ Robin

      You must never have been bullied. You are a well-intentioned but naive fool, as is the author of this article. I could expound upon the psychological aspects of bullying, but it's useless in this forum. Punch one of the b@astards in the mouth and then you'll have their attention. Punch them again if you have to. No, I'm not a bully. But I do believe in a strong defensive posture. So does my son, who was bullied, and stopped it in it's tracks with one – Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth. End of Bullying. What you don't realize is that there is a time and place for everything.

      October 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • Magic

      @A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth,

      How nice that this approach worked for you and your son, but circ-umstances are not always like yours:

      - What if the bully is a 4th grader and the recipient is a 1st grader?

      - What if the bully is a 6' boy and the recipient is a 5'2" girl?

      - What if the bully is able-bodied and the recipient is disabled?

      - What if the bullying is taking place on the internet?

      You get the picture. Parents and teachers and others who care for children need to take practical measures to get through to kids that bullying is just not acceptable in society - any more than walking down the street with no clothes on.

      Love is great - I'm all FOR it, but the saccharine stuff I have been reading here is really making me gag.

      And this imaginary "God" is really the biggest bully of all - "Adore Me, Obey Me, Fear Me.... or you will burn for eternity."

      October 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

      @ Magic

      Obviously. I ended with "there is a time and place for everything." That includes police and lawyers should school officials fail in their responsibilities. The lines between bullying, harassment and assault are fine ones. There's nothing wrong with being aggressive in defending yourself by any means necessary. Anything's better than 'praying' for someone who is threatening you. They could care less.

      October 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Magic & @A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

      I understand both of your posts and where you are coming from...

      October 23, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • Robin

      Punch in the Mouth, Yes, I have been bullied in the past. As has my daughter and probably everyone that I know in some way or another. I am sorry that you do not believe in my very REAL GOD! I do believe and have seen many of those bullies receive their just rewards in the end. I do believe that there is a time and place for everything! I also believe in taking up for oneself. I do not believe that violence should in turn produce more violence. I do believe that, as parents, we should teach our children right from wrong. If more parents would do that then maybe there would be less bullies in the world. If you start teaching a child LOVE they will in turn give LOVE! If you teach a child to just hit them in the mouth and knock their teeth out then guess what you have created? Another bully!!!!!

      October 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • A Solid Well-Placed Punch in the Mouth

      @ Robin

      "I am sorry that you do not believe in my very REAL GOD! I do believe and have seen many of those bullies receive their just rewards in the end."

      I can say that I believe in MY God... He/She/It probably isn't YOUR God, but my Supreme Being (SB) treats me pretty well. If I need support in my times of 'helplessness' I can call upon the SB. The SB doesn't answer me, and I respect that, but the time I spend in quiet introspection is usually helpful. The rest of the time the SB leaves me alone, and I appreciate that; I like the idea that the SB trusts me to make good decisions. And if I don't, I usually get a punishment (I assume it comes from either the SB, or just from the cause-and-effect relationship of my poor judgment.)

      And I really don't think that any responsible SB would want anyone's child to suffer protracted psychological distress while waiting for Him/Her/It to get around to punishing the child's tormentor. I'm certain that the Universe is a busy place and the SB would rather we have the initiative to resolve our own problems.

      October 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Robin

      Hi Robin..

      I am sincerely curious... Hypothetically speaking, assuming that 'love' is and will continue to be taught, etc...

      My question to you is.... What would you have a child do, who is cornered and getting bullied, or getting ready to get 'beat up'... or, he/she is already getting punched.

      How would your .... "killing them with kindness" assertion work...?

      Curious...

      October 23, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  14. Joan

    Bashing others seems to be alive and well here. Kingsbury speaks and writes to point to the better way of loving those different than ourselves. She has no need to plug her books.
    The need is to stop bullying by adults as illustrated by the Christians at the park and those who bash Christians here as well. This is exactly what thinking and acting teaches children to bully.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • Kat

      Amen

      October 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jay O'Connell

      The line in this piece that is most offensive to those of us working (rather than say, just praying) to stop bullying in schools is the "The answer is one you won’t find on any of the anti-bullying websites." Wow. She is being condescending towards the efforts led by non-religious organizations to DO something CONCRETE about this problem. She sneers at the 'cliche' that self-described Christians are in any way at fault in this—but they are. Christians who are brave and honest know that this blood is on their hands. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bishop-gene-robinson/how-religion-is-killing-o_b_764568.html

      October 25, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  15. Voicescarry

    Unfortunately, there are extremists who are Christian/Muslim/non-Christian, etc. and they give others a bad taste of their beliefs based upon their extreme actions or words. I am sorry for the experience that you and your family had at the park, Mr. Johnson. The main gist of Ms. Kingsbury's article was bullying, which, unfortunatly is all too prevalent in society today. There are have been many reports in the news about suicides that have been caused, in part, by the incessant bullying that some kids experience in school. There was a teen suicide at my children's High School this year. While there may have been other events that led to this 15 year old's suicide, he had been bullied at school. His mother had held at least one conference at school to see what could be done to alleviate the situation. From elementary to high school in our school district, there is a lot of emphasis and training on bullying – recognition and prevention – but it still continues. What Ms. Kingsbury was trying to get across was that people need to care – they need to have the compassion to reach out to those who are alone and they need to have the courage to step in when they see others being mistreated. This should be done whether or not someone is a Christian or holds any other type of belief – it's basic humanity. I have read Ms. Kingsbury's book, "Unlocked" and seen the movie "To Save a Life". Both deal with the subject of bullying in High School and the duty we have as Christians and non-Christians to see beyond ourselves and reach out to others who are hurting or being ignored.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  16. Darlene

    Karen you are so right. We need to show Christ's love. I know I've been guilty in the past of not always doing my part. His love is real, pure and life changing. Let it change your life today.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  17. Amanda

    Karen,
    It was very encouraging to read your article. I just recently wrote an article about bullying for one of my education classes. It is an epidemic and the statistics are shattering. I agree that love is what this world needs and that LOVE CONQUERS ALL!!! We need to show God's love to others. If everybody did this, the world would be a much better place. Thanks so much Karen!

    October 23, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  18. Hetty

    I pray that kids realize how much God loves them and how much He is there for them.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  19. Danielle

    Thank you Karen Kingsbury for taking on such a discouraging issue and giving it hope! I hope more people read this article and will take the challenge to be more loving and accepting of those around them, no matter what.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  20. Jessica

    Thank God for people like you who speak up in a world of darkness, where love is in short supply. I believe that God's love is the answer to this horrendous problem, I just pray that more people can realize this and that love will conquer all. No one is perfect, but God is.

    October 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.