Of bullies and the bullied

One of the biggest topic of discussion in Malaysia, unrelated to politics, over the past fortnight, has been about bullying. Ever since news broke out early last week about Nhaveen’s assault and his subsequent death, there has been no end to talk and news on bullying, both in mainstream and social media. This comes on the heels of an earlier incident, resulting in the death of navy cadet Zulfarhan. These are recent incidents related to bullying, which sadly resulted in the deaths of the respective victims. There might be more incidents of intimidated people, that went unreported or did not gain as much attention as the recent incidents have.

Indeed, it is hard to make any sense of these brutal acts and if one happens to be a parent, especially of school going children or those attending tertiary level education, one can’t help but be concerned for the well-being of the child. Though my son has some years left in him before he goes to the nursery or kindergarten, my wife and I can’t help but feel anxious for him, in light of what transpired over the past few weeks. We want to protect him from being bullied and more importantly from becoming a bully himself. I am certain that my wife and I are not the only ones feeling like this. I know that my close friends and many others are on the same page here. We want to protect and equip our children with what is needed so they do not end up being a victim of bullying or the bully.

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Source: Pexels

A bully, in the context of this post, is defined as “A person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. – Source: Oxford Dictionary[1]. This word most likely originated from the Middle Dutch word “boele”, back in the 16th century.  It was originally used “As a term of endearment applied to either sex; it later became a familiar form of address to a male friend. – Source: Oxford Dictionary[1]“. Ironically, another definition or use for the word bully is “Very good or excellent. Source: Oxford Dictionary[1]” and this is used in the context of expressing admiration or approval.

Now, bullying happens in various forms such as physical, verbal, social (also known as relational) and cyberspace[2][3][4]. Being aware of the many forms of bullying and the associated signs or symptoms shown by the victims, gives us the awareness that something is not right. This awareness can help us provide timely assistance and guidance to the victims, helping them deal with the situation in a better manner. Although it may not be possible to prevent bullying, there are some individuals who may be at a higher risk of being bullied. Those who have low self-esteem, behave differently and appear to be unconventional[5][6][7] among others, are at a higher risk of being bullied. It must be noted that not all those who show such traits will be victims of bullying.

On the other side of the coin, bullies don’t just appear out of nowhere. There are some common signs that bullies or potential bullies exhibit, which can be detected very early on. Among the common signs are, being overly aggressive with others, not accepting responsibility for their actions and getting into physical or verbal fights[8][9]. Again, it does not mean that if someone exhibits these signs, they are definitely bullies. Being aware of these signs allows us as parents to nip it in the bud and work with the child to address these bad behaviours. After all, regardless of whether the child is a bully or not, such bad behaviour in a child should not be condoned and left unchecked.

Source: Pexels

Looking back at my own journey in life, I recognise some incidents in which I could have been categorised as a victim of bullying. Of course, back then I had no inkling that I was being bullied. However, I was aware that the situation did not feel right and I had to do something about it as I was not comfortable with that situation. In hindsight, I was fortunate enough to have come out of those incidents with nary a scratch.


One such incident during my teenage years, occurred over an intense period of a few weeks. I was ostracised or left out from my usual social circle and targeted during games. All these happened due to a misunderstanding in which it was assumed that I was a snitch. Initially, I was not aware that I was being cast out. When someone was being aggressive towards me while playing, I took it as part and parcel of the game. When I was hardly involved in the game, I assumed that it was due to the way the game flowed, not realising that I was being left out intentionally. When very few spoke with me or kept themselves away from me, I thought it was because everybody was busy with their own studies and preparation for the exams.

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Source: Pexels

After a while, I realised that the situation was far from normal and something fishy was afoot. It was a difficult time indeed for me. Very few spoke to me during that time. Most avoided me unless it was necessary to communicate with me. I was very upset and angry with the situation and myself. I became agitated easily and took it out on my family. My momentum took a dip for a few days. I did not understand why I was in such a situation until someone from that social circle, who was willing to speak with me, told me what was going on.

There were a few things that kept me going at that time. I think the most important of them all was my faith in God. I was fortunate that my parents took the trouble to deeply implant in me, to have faith in God. As I had mentioned in prior articles (God and I – Part 1 & Part 2), speaking with God, pouring out my problems and concerns helped. I did not find resolutions to my problem immediately but it helped me find much-needed strength and patience. I calmed down slowly. My pent-up anger and frustration dissipated at a snail’s pace but dissipate it did.

Source: Pexels

I was also lucky enough that I had someone whom I trusted and could confide with, to talk to about my problems. Although this person did not resolve the problem for me, having someone listening to my situation and being available to talk to when needed, was helpful in itself. It provided me with the physical proof that I am not alone and someone has my back. Again, I was fortunate enough that my parents had encouraged me to reach out to this person as an alternative, in case I needed help with anything.

The other thing that kept me going was that I was good at something. I was very confident of my ability in accomplishing those tasks that I had to do. The end result showed me that I was still good at completing those tasks. Though my performance dipped initially, it recovered as quick as it had dipped. This, to a certain extent took my mind away from the situation. Now, although I had bouts of low self-esteem during this period of time, the confidence in being able to focus and complete those tasks, helped keep my self-esteem up. It gave me the assurance in dealing with all the other aspects of my daily life.

Source: Pexels

Eventually, someone else admitted to be the person who had provided the information that I was being held responsible for. This person also spoke to a wise man who then got the circle of friends together, spoke to us using a tale as an analogy to the situation that we were all in and at the end of it, asked us to reflect upon it. Both these actions eventually ended that situation and things returned to normal. We went on to make peace with each other and moved on from there.

I suppose that I could be considered to be lucky enough to walk away with a happy ending. However, luck was not the only thing that helped me. Someone courageous enough took the effort to overcome their own fears, to stand up to the group and admit for something that I was being blamed for. This started the end of the bullying episode. The intervention of an outsider, in the form of the wise man, also helped end the bullying episode. More importantly, his timely intervention helped in healing the whole lot of us at an emotional level. We all took something out of that incident, as lessons for life.

Source: Pexels

Personally, I felt that my deep-rooted faith in God, having someone to speak with and having something that I was really good at, helped me tide over that difficult period of time. Without these three things, it would have been absolutely challenging to continue with life as usual. I also understood that in my situation, those who bullied me, did so with the notion that they were right and I was wrong. Since, I was guilty from their perspective, there is no harm in teaching me a lesson so I do not repeat it again. Although it might be unacceptable to others, to them it was the right thing to do. Only the intervention from an outsider made them realise that their actions, no matter how well intended it might be, is simply not the right one.

As for my son, I am going to teach him what I know of his religion. I would like him to discover and learn to have faith in God, just as how my parents did for me. Faith in God is a very strong root, for the tree of life on Earth. I am going to encourage him to talk to my wife and myself about anything and everything. We will have to be there for him, setting aside time for him to talk with us and try very hard to not be his parents during that time.Of course, as he grows up, he may not feel comfortable doing so but therein lies the challenge of how we convince him that we would still be there for him no matter what, or provide him with suitable alternatives. Surely, this is way better that worrying and doing nothing.

I don’t know for sure if my wife and I would be successful in protecting and equipping our son from being bullied or becoming a bully himself.  In the unfortunate event that he ends up being bullied or become a bully, as parents we will have to be alert to his behaviour and work towards addressing them, just as how this mother responded upon discovering that her daughter was being bullied. Afterall, doing something is way better than nothing.

P.S.: Featured image was sourced from Pexels.