We have all encountered bullying in some form or another.
These are sometimes painful memories. It’s a terrible feeling to be weak and unable to stand up for ourselves.
Perhaps even more painful is the knowledge that from time to time many of us participated, or at least allowed the bullying, as bystanders – people who could have taken the stand for the vulnerable among us but didn’t.
To know that we could have, and certainly should have, taken a stand but didn’t is a sickening feeling. We can try to forget about it and we can ask forgiveness, but we can’t change the fact that it happened.
We currently have another chance because some bullies are on the loose.
A number of candidates have engaged in divisive political rhetoric this election season. It’s wrong and they know it. But like the playground bully, they don’t care because there’s power to be had.
This kind of politician is nothing new in our history. They are so common that there’s a name for them: demagogue.
The demagogue’s goal is to use people’s fears in order to get power. It’s a political word for a bully, and history has seen plenty of them.
The target of the bullying this campaign season has been immigrants. We all know there’s been plenty of race-baiting, hateful rhetoric aimed at our immigrant brothers and sisters. This is wrong and we know it.
The Bible says so many times, most directly, “Love the alien living amongst you as yourself.”
The Pope, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, Gradye Parsons, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and many other religious leaders have rightly spoken out against such rhetoric.
I have taught immigrant kids for many years. At one point at Northwest Whitfield High School in north Georgia, I was teaching all immigrant students.
At Gordon Central High School, I was the assistant coach of a practically all Hispanic soccer team.
At Calhoun High School, where I currently work, a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) student – whose name I mispronounced an entire year before he finally laughed and corrected me – helped me make teaching videos that got me nominated for an award that I’m very proud of.
My immigrant kids have been a joy to teach because they’ve worked hard and giggled at my somewhat funny jokes.
They believe that America is a land of hope and dreams where everybody has a chance if they work hard enough, and that anyone who looks down on them is un-American.
They’ve helped to give my life meaning because, at the end of each day, whether I do a good job or not, I feel like I have a job that pays me to be good and decent and gives me an opportunity to try to help people.
I have an obligation to stand by my kids when the dark days come. We should all stand up for the weak and the vulnerable any time a bully arrives on the scene.
In recent years, we’ve been taught that the most important people in a bullying situation are not the bullies or the victims, but the bystanders.
What should we do as bystanders? Stand up to the bully, stand close to the vulnerable. By stepping up, we shift the power.
It is my prayer that we the people take a stand against the fear, the bullying and the nastiness by listening to what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
Sean McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Georgia, who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.