These days, no one is immune to the consequences of economic hardships. Even people who have a steady job feel the strain of rising food and energy costs and stress rendered from unemployment, underemployment, and overemployment.
With stress so widespread, bullying in the workplace is also on the rise. According to some statistics, nearly four in ten employees have been victims of bullying in one way or another. Bullying can take many forms, from sarcasm and criticism to severe, targeted harassment and humiliation. The causes for bullying are many; often, our response to bullies are no better.
Victims of bullying in the workplace can turn to the Bible for guidance. The first book of Samuel has some useful material for this situation.
First Samuel records the rise and fall of Israel’s first king, Saul. At the beginning of the book, Israel was in disarray; and Samuel, the last of the great judges of old, tried to hold the tribes together. The Israelites saw their neighboring kingdoms grow in power; they wanted the same and demanded a king. God begrudgingly anointed Saul.
In the meantime, a young man named David made a name for himself. He slew Goliath and took command of some of Saul’s armies. It did not take long for him to become a successful commander. People started to sing of his greatness: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7b).
Upon hearing this, Saul grew jealous of David and plotted against him. Saul became a bully extraordinaire.
David fled to the countryside and fought the Philistines while avoiding Saul’s legions. By the time we get to 1 Samuel 24, David and his small band of misfits were shut up in the caves of En-Gedi. Saul and 3000 soldiers were about to flush them out, when Saul took time to tend to personal business. Unbeknownst to Saul, he did so at the very cave where David and his men were hiding.
David’s friends encouraged him to kill this evil king. This was David’s opportunity to put an end to the bullying once and for all.
According to the Bible, David was “a man after God’s own heart;” and, instead of revenge, David responded with righteousness. He refused to kill Saul and took a piece of Saul’s robe instead.
When Saul ventured back to camp, David came out of his rocky refuge, waved the robe, and told Saul that he spared Saul’s life. David communicated a deep truth: that reconciliation was a better way forward then endless harassment and vitriol.
David quoted an ancient proverb to show Saul that being a bully to a bully is not productive: “Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness.” David was going to break the cycle of violence.
David’s righteous response to Saul can help employees who face bullies. First, David identified the problem (in this case, misinformation–Saul assumed things about David that were not true). Second, David redefined his relationship to Saul, making the issue personal but respectful (he called Saul “my King” and “father”).
Third, David chose reconciliation over revenge by sharing his feelings with Saul. Yes, David could have gotten Saul back for all that Saul did, but David would never take the life of another one of God’s children.
David was bearing witness to the magnificence of God’s love–that trusting in God in the midst of adversity can lead to real change. Psalm 57, a psalm David wrote while in the cave, states, “For Your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.”
David reminds us that God loves bullies, and we should love bullies too. My prayer is that when the opportunity presents itself, you can be a minister of reconciliation rather than a little piece in the larger fabric of conflict that pervades many workplaces in our time and day.