At the church I attend, we receive each week a little handout booklet called “Seek”. A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in that handout titled, “When Teasing Goes Too Far”. It was perhaps the saddest thing I'd read in a long, long time. The article was about a young man named Charles Andrew Williams, who in March of 2001 took his father's gun to school with him and shot two of his fellow classmates. Thirteen others were wounded during his shooting frenzy. According to those who witnessed the event, the young fifteen year old was smiling the whole time.
In trying to figure out young Andy's motives for this brutally violent attack, some very sad details came out about his life. Williams' parents had divorced less than a year before. Until that time, he had lived in Maryland. He had had a girlfriend. He was well liked and got along with his peers. Afterward, however, he went to live with his father in southern California, while his mother resided in South Carolina. He was separated from his mother by a distance of over 2,000 miles. At his new school, he was quickly targeted for bullying. He was the new kid. He was thin and apparently awkward in looks, so he must have made for an easy target. His skateboard, as well as a pair of shoes, were stolen. He was constantly being picked on and teased by other students. In short, his life had been turned upside down. These things is what is believed to have led to the motive. Something, or all of these things combined, must have literally sent him right over the edge. And he decided to get even, and to vent his frustrations and anger out on his fellow classmates. Two of them are dead now, and thirteen were wounded.
I wonder if those he attacked were the ones who were constantly picking on him? Was the smile on his face one of relief in that case? Not to imply that he was right in what he did because of that. Far from it! But I can't help but feel somewhat sad for him. Here's a young kid whose family life was shattered, and he was probably confused and saddened deeply about that. He was uprooted and moved to the other end of the country, far away from his mother, who he could no longer see on a regular basis, and, well, he basically had to give up all that was familiar to him. And then, in his new environment, those around him, rather than to have welcomed him, decided to pick on him and bully him to the point where he was outright miserable. I think it would be hard for any of us to respond well under those circumstances. Not that we'd all make the same decision that Williams did. But doesn't all this set bad with you?
As it turned out, Williams was tried as an adult and was given a 50-year to life sentence in a California state prison. According to the article, he won't be eligible for parole until he's 65 years old. He'll spend the majority of his life behind bars.
Isn't this horrible? I don't mean the punishment, but the fact that all this happened. Andy Williams' life has literally become a tragedy. And it's all laced with sin. His parents divorce, the forced separation from his mother, the thefts, the teasing, the failure of the school administrators and others to prevent that, his dad being careless with an armed weapon, Andy deciding to hurt other people and to kill them... If this story says anything, it's that the consequences of sin are great. I feel sorry for all the families and friends of those involved. I wonder how saddened the parents of those murdered feel. I wonder how his parents feel. Does anyone regret having bullied him? Does he regret what he did? I wonder how much harm was done by all those involved. I feel sorry for Andy. I wish that all those terrible things hadn't happened to him. I also wish that he hadn't responded to all those things in the manner he did.
It isn't right for any of us to make somebody else miserable. Making fun of others and putting them down, what's right about that? And of course, it's always just “in good fun”. It's never meant to mean anything. No one ever intended to hurt the other person's feelings.
I felt awful after I read this article. I was reminded of all those times I've been made fun of or was mistreated or picked on. I was reminded of how horrible that's made me feel each time it's happened to me. I also was introduced to the idea that maybe I'd done that to others though. Maybe not intentionally... well, yes, sadly that's true too—intentionally. But I thought of one person in particular. A guy I've worked with for some time now has often been made the butt of many jokes. He's not the brightest of people, and so he is an easy target. It's easy to get him riled up over something. I've teased him before, and picked on him, never meaning to hurt his feelings, but just to have a bit of fun with him. But now, I realize I probably have hurt his feelings a few times. And that's made me feel terrible. I don't want to be the cause of making someone else's life more difficult. I don't want to hurt anyone like that. I know how it can feel.
So, I decided to do something nice for this coworker. Since I'm technically head of my department now, I took it upon myself to make him an honorary employee of the week. I gave him a certificate with his name on it, with a dollar bill attached, and got all the other workers to applaud whenever I gave him the award. When I gave it to him, his face lit up for the first time in a long time. He smiled and looked beat. He thanked me and the others and seemed to be floating on cloud nine the rest of the day. I'd become use to seeing him angry and frustrated, but I didn't see that afterwards, and it was wonderful not to see that. It made me feel good just because he felt good.
Isn't that what we as Christians are supposed to be in the business of doing? Aren't we supposed to be helping each other, and building each other up? Aren't we supposed to be setting a good example? How are we doing that when we tear others down?
Yes, teasing can honestly be “all in good fun”, but sometimes it can literally be taken too far. As in the case of Andy Williams. But just when do we cross the line? When does playful banter become abuse? Ephesians 4:29 tells us, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” A good saying to include here might be, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”. Nobody, I'm sure, would enjoy being teased day in and day out. So, why do we do that? “All in good fun” can't be an excuse. As the article stated near the end, “The teasers and others who made Andy's life miserable were not charged with any crime—at least not in the courts. But if any of them are Christians, God will hold them accountable for their actions. Count on it!” If we contribute to sending somebody over the edge, you better believe that God is going to hold us just as much accountable for their actions. In the case of my coworker, I didn't want to see anything similar happen with him. I didn't want to see him come in to work one day with a gun ready to wipe out all of us. I want to see him lifted up, made to feel good, and hopefully brought to Christ. I hope that's the future in store for him, and not the other way around.
As I brought up earlier, I've been both the teased and the teaser. As a Christian, I know not to allow rejection or abuse or any other sin to drag me down to the point of killing those who treat me like that. But I'd neglected to think about how others may feel when I'm the one teasing them. I've never purposefully meant to hurt anyone like that. I hope that I haven't. But, it's always good to keep in mind that one could in that manner. It's always good to keep in mind the feelings of others.
How many people have you sent over the edge?