It occurs to me that schools today are teaching about “bullying” much differently than when I was a kid. Back in the Seventies, we thought of “bullying” as either physical violence or the threat of physical violence. Today, “bullying” is considered to include the use of insults that hurt the feelings of others. I take issue with this new definition of bullying because it brings about a misunderstanding of freedom of conscience and also a misunderstanding of the virtue of fortitude, “a steadiness of will in doing good in spite of difficulties faced in the performance of one’s duty.”
At On the Culture, Mary Gates speaks of fortitude in the face of (today’s definition of ) bullying.
Yesterday, I overheard a neighborhood kid make a mean comment about one of my middle sons to my eldest child, who smiled uncomfortably and said nothing. It occurred to me then that I spend a lot of time teaching kindness and not enough time modeling fortitude. It occurred to me that too often the bullies go unchallenged because its easier to just let it go – to not engage in the ugly battle.
I told the neighbor kid that what he said was hurtful and wouldn’t be tolerated, and I hoped my four children were listening (especially the eldest who waiting anxiously for his mom to butt out so he could finish his game of tackle football). I recommitted myself to teaching my kids to stand up and speak up, to affirm the good and to challenge the hate. To be courageous enough to engage the ugly.
It’s good to see the virtue of fortitude mentioned in an article about “bullying” in the form of insults. I have to say, though, that I think there is good reason not to accept the idea that verbal insults constitute “bullying,” in and of themselves. The reason is that whether something is insulting is always a subjective determination that is not always based on moral reasoning. Let’s take a look at a Catholic definition of the VIRTUE of fortitude to understand this point better.
FORTITUDE (EMPHASIS MINE):
Firmness of spirit. As a virtue, it is a steadiness of will in doing good in spite of difficulties faced in the performance of one’s duty.
There are two levels to the practice of fortitude: one is the suppression of inordinate fear and the other is the curbing of recklessness. The control of fear is the main role of fortitude. Hence the primary effect of fortitude is to keep unreasonable fears under control and not allow them to prevent one from doing what one’s mind says should be done. But fortitude or courage also moderates rashness, which tends to lead the headstrong to excess in the face of difficulties and dangers. It is the special virtue of pioneers in any endeavor.
As a human virtue, fortitude is essentially different from what has come to be called animal courage. Animals attack either from pain, as when they go after humans because they are angered, whom they would leave alone if they were unmolested. They are not virtuously brave, for they face danger from pain or rage or some other sense instinct, not from choice, as do those who act with foresight. True courage is from deliberate choice, not mere emotion. (Etym. Latin fortitudo, strength; firmness of soul; courage of soul.)
One is not experiencing the virtue of fortitude if one is showing bravery when his feelings are hurt. One is experiencing the virtue of fortitude ONLY if, in the performance of one’s Christian duty, he shows bravery in the face of insults. In other words, if you are being insulted for being Christian, you practice virtue in enduring such insults.
Having said that, we live in a country where freedom of conscience is under severe threat and needs to be protected. With this comes the freedom of speech. It is not okay for us to seek to pass laws that punish people for saying things that merely hurt the feelings of other people, even if those laws were limited to hurting the feelings of Catholics who are insulted simply for being Catholic. We should do everything possible to protect the right of people to say whatever they want to say through their computer keyboards and mouths, but at the same time, use our own voices to inspire people to practice fortitude so that they can develop the virtue of fortitude. This cannot happen if we are raising our children to believe that hurting someone’s feelings is, in and of itself, an evil thing. If we allow our children to be conditioned to believe that hurting someone’s feelings is evil, then we are allowing them to be conditioned to believe that it is wrong to express a Catholic viewpoint in a world that has become hostile to the Catholic Faith.
Think twice before endorsing “anti-bullying” programs that focus on conditioning kids not to hurt people’s feelings and that ignore the importance of teaching kids the value of fortitude in the face of insults.
See also: St Gemma on Humiliations.