A mother was heartbroken. There she was talking explicitly about her pain and anguish in front of the TV reporters. As a way of protecting her privacy, she wore a white surgical mask to hide her identity. Even so, the cameras were able to zoom in on her and capture the sadness in her eyes. It was written all over her face. What’d happened? Why was she so upset? It’s a call no parents will ever want to receive. An episode no parents will ever want to go through in their life. In an apparent suicide attempt, her teenage son was seen jump out of the school building to kill himself. Fortunately, he didn’t die at the scene. But he was seriously injured to the lower part of his body as later announced by hospital. School did all they could – called an ambulance. He was quickly taken to a hospital emergency department for an urgent treatment. His mother rushed to the ward to be by his bed side, watch him fighting for his life. The hospital setting, the medical staff running around, No, it wasn’t one of prime-time soap operas, it was a real news on TV last week in Taiwan. Believe or not, his self-harm didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Why not? He’d been known for being a victim of bullying both on line and on the school yard for a while. In that, his school has been criticized for not acting early enough to prevent this preventable tragedy.
To add insult to injury, his mother was suggested by school to file the case as an accident as opposed to a suicide attempt, so that it’d give the case a valid reason for the insurance claim. Then on the get-well card sent to him following the incident, there was an insensitive message coming from his teacher calling his act as stupid. Also, on that there were a couple of anonymous short messages believed to be written by the bullies. Those three little words “Get well soon” were a bit cold comfort. That’s all they have to say. They didn’t sound sincere nor genuine. Perhaps driven by fear, pressure or public outcry, they didn’t even have the decency to put their names down. From this, we can see words hurt, sometimes words can kill. This is a case got reported by the media and brought to light. No one would argue it’s an isolated one. But imagine how many cases are out there that haven’t been uncovered? We just don’t know. But one thing for sure, the number won’t be zero.
So, how did he become an easy, soft target for bullying among his peers? Why did he get picked on? When I heard of the reason, I was dismayed and appalled. The types of bullying he had to endure were staggering. He was subjected to names calling (sissy) that followed him everywhere, systematic intimidating, teasing and harassing taking place in the school’s change room. His gentle soul and persona got him into trouble. The trouble lies in the fact he didn’t fit the stereotypes of dominant men which are deeply ingrained in our world – something that’s been passed down generation after generation and to this day, there’re still signs of reinforcing it. I don’t see anything wrong with portraying men as a strong character, but it needs to have a balance. Strength comes in many shapes and forms. If you look around, chances are the strongest people you’ve ever come across aren’t those who appear to be the loudest, but the calmest.
Relatively, weeks ago a news feed on my Facebook posted by SBS (Special Broadcasting Services) Australia, got me thinking long and hard on the subject. It was about a small school boy called Mitchell who went to the TV studio – a debate forum “Insight” telling the host and a group of audience about how he stood up to a bully and told this kid to stop being mean to his friend. Mitchell’s bravery and courage won him much admiration and applause from many viewers, but it shouldn’t just end there. Our schools, our workplaces and every corners of our society need more friends like Mitchell. We all can be the next Mitchell in our own tiny way. Remember 3 S’s to eradicate the bullying – See something, say something, stop something. That’s all it takes. Interestingly, what Mitchell discovered about the bully and shared it on the show was: the bully felt threatened when being confronted by him. Deep down bullies are weak, once their bad behaviours are interrupted, they lose power and the edge over other people.
Why do I feel so strongly about this topic? Because I’m no stranger to bulling. Growing up, I used to be that little boy got bullied a lot at school. Back then, the term for bullying didn’t even exist. That Taiwanese teenager’s ordeal resonated with me on a personal level which prompted me to write this post. I survived, a long time ago. Many people did, as well. But some did not. They went to extremes to end their own lives to end the pain they could no longer bear. Bullying is like bacteria. If the environment is “right” for them, it’ll become a breeding ground for them to proliferate, they will do just that – spread. If we foster the environment that’s supportive and inclusive, bullies will have no place to cling on to.
Last, as this post draws to a close, I thought I’d ask: What advice would you give to the teenage self? For me, I’d tell myself: Strive to be the best version of yourself, embrace your differences and stay weird!