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.

The ones that teach

மாதா பிதா குரு தெய்வம்“, is an old phrase in Tamil, which means “Mother, Father, Guru and God”, when translated to English. This saying gives a glimpse as to the importance placed on a Guru or teacher, in the lives of ancient Tamils and to an extent, ancient India as the same saying exists in Sanskrit. That is how highly a teacher is looked upon, in ancient societies. This is still true even today in, at least in most parts of the world.

I started my life as a student, in a tiny school known as La Salle Sentul, located in a quaint part of Sentul. Then again, most parts of Sentul was quaint back then. La Salle Sentul was a place that I spent eleven years of my life, under the watchful eyes of colourful and wonderful teachers. My alma mater, is a little school, when measured by the standards of schools in Kuala Lumpur. It housed both the primary and secondary schools within the same compound. Yes, in case you were wondering, the shrill of the whistle as mentioned in one of my earlier posts, from the nearby Sentul railways workshop was very much audible[1] at school.

Image sourced from Pexels

As I recall it, on my first day at school, there was this gentle motherly looking lady, who greeted me and almost fourty others. She encouraged us to leave the comfort of our parents and to remain in class during school hours. She spoke gently and softly, gaining our trust, until we became comfortable with her. I can’t really remember now, what subjects she taught us. However, between her and the other two friendly and motherly ladies who also taught my class, we were under very good eyes and hands in our first year at school. They were strict and punished us when necessary but kept it to a minimum. As far as I can remember, they did their very best to build the foundation that was necessary for us to continue learning and achieve our true potential. They pretty much set the tone for the rest of my school life.

Throughout my years in school, I realised and understood that teachers did not just teach. A number of them went beyond that. As a young child and all the way through part of my teens, I went through bouts of asthma attacks. As a result of this, my parents did their very best to keep me away from games and sports, worried that an elevated breathing level would lead me to another asthma attack. It was one of my teachers who spoke to my parents, convincing them that I would be just fine being active. She encouraged me to participate in sports and games. Thanks to her, I enjoyed running and represented my “house” during sports days all through my school life.

Image sourced from Pixabay

When I had to stay away from school due to my asthma attacks, some of my teachers offered to help me catch-up with lessons once I returned to school. They came to see me at hospital when I had to undergo a minor sinus operation. Upon returning to school, they ensured that I obtained copies of notes and lessons that I had missed and completed all the exercises that were given out to the rest of class, during my absence.

One fine day, when I injured myself after an incident with a glass door, it was one of my teachers who came to help me up and calm me down. I had panicked and was howling by then, having seen blood gushing out and the insides of my knee and shin. She wrapped a bandage temporarily around the wound while another teacher rushed me off to the hospital, in his white Nissan. While I was at the hospital, he stayed by my side until my father arrived. Later on, another teacher dropped by to see if I was doing fine. Again, my teachers impressed upon me to get copies of notes and to complete all the exercises that I had missed out on, upon returning to school after a lengthy medical leave.

Image sourced from Pexels

There were the teachers who gave me the opportunity and then continued to encourage me to participate in dramas and to be part of the school choir. I would have never known it at that time but being part of the choir remained an important feature of my academic year from school through my time at the university. Being part of these activities, helped me build up my confidence and gave me an opportunity to just have fun, other than studying.

Then there were the teachers who felt that making me a school prefect, when the time came, would mould me into being a more disciplined person and perhaps learn other skills along the way. I was a very talkative person, much to the chagrin of my teachers. Again, that move helped and I learned slowly to be a slightly more disciplined person. I believe this also helped me to become a matured person and planted seeds of basic of leadership skills in me. Being a school prefect, made me explore and figure out what values I would hold dear for the rest of my life. Having said that, my wife would most likely disagree that the move helped with the talkative aspect of my character.

Image sourced from Pexels

Some of the teachers took it upon themselves to play the part of a counsellor, even when it wasn’t their task to be one. Besides teaching, they would encourage us to speak with them or any other teacher that we were comfortable to speak with. They kept a close eye out for signals of us being upset or distressed about something. Each of them would have their own methods of getting us to relax, especially during the exam years. Although they may not have been able to help all of us, their efforts definitely helped some of us stay strong as we navigated through our adolescence.

There are a lot more tales from my days in school, where one or more teachers have made a significant impact in my life. One single post will be too long to cover them all. Suffice to say, the passionate, brilliant, hardworking, dedicated and wonderful teachers that I was lucky enough to have studied under, have strongly influenced how I matured and eventually turned out in life. I owe part of my success to their presence in my life.

Image sourced from Pexels

I may have lost touch with most of my teachers today, seeing some of them occasionally at functions or at the restaurants. However, I have not forgotten and will not forget what I have learned from my them, from those at school and those at the tuition centres that I attended. Part of what I am today, is pretty much due to their effort in teaching me and going over and beyond their usual call of duty when needed. After all, what is a student, if not for the teacher that the student studied from?

P.S.: The featured image is sourced from Pixabay.