BULLYING in schools is wrong. It is bad especially when children wind up hurt or even killed. It's something I've always felt very strongly about, and this is why the death of 13-year-old Daniel Fitzpatrick in New York hit home when news broke of it after he committed suicide on August 11.
It hit strongly because I feel it's only a matter of time before something similar emerges here in Malaysia, and this was clear to me when I read what Fitzpatrick was bullied about - his weight and his grades. As it stands, we've already seen one rather graphic case this year when a Year Two student was bullied into cutting off part of his own tongue in April.
Sure, the police might have come out saying that the eight-year-old had hurt himself while playing with a pair of scissors in school. However, I am more inclined to believe his 29-year-old mother who backed her son's statement that he was pressured into the act by five boys in his class.
This incident - which reminded me of a long list of stories of viral bullying videos emerging from our schools - really drove home one fact. We have to stop this problem before a Malaysian boy or girl in our schools winds up dead thanks to bullies. As it is, these viral videos are often forgotten soon after the stories are published, even if they generated 45,325 views and 541 likes when they were posted to Facebook as one such video did this February.
So, how can we stop this cruelty? Yes, bullying is a form of cruelty; the Malaysian Psychological Association president Dr Goh Chee Leong defined bullying as “an act of purposeful cruelty” that involves one or a group of people intentionally trying to hurt someone else, adding that this hurt does not have to be physical as it can come in the form of humiliation, name-calling or the spreading of reputation-destroying rumours.
I put this question up on social media a while back and got a very potent response from a friend of mine who was bullied growing up.
"It takes a lot to drive a person to suicide. Suicide is done by those who have been broken in their spirit. We need to show how damaging bullying can be, as it can destroy children. It's not the nature of some people to fight back and gentle, soft spoken children are probably the ones who'll be hit the hardest by bullying as they are less inclined to fight back," said my friend.
He pointed out that people have to stop excusing bullying as a rite of passage, saying that it is wrong for people to excuse bullying with lines like "kids will be kids, it is cruel to be kind" or to hold a belief that bullying is needed for some children to "toughen up."
"Don't stand idly by when someone is being bullied. We must always speak up for those who are somehow unable to do so until they find their strength and their voice and then encourage others to follow suit. Children need people they look up to and trust to take a stand, to put a foot down hard and declare outright that bullying is unacceptable and should not be allowed to go on," he added.
He said that in taking a firm stand, we shouldn't think that we could be raising a "generation of sissies and whiners."
"It is about raising a generation whose values are that it is unacceptable under any circumstance to threaten, terrorize, or cause harm to another person for any reason whatsoever," he said.
Hearing this, I'm inclined to agree with him. By taking a firm stand against "acts of purposeful cruelty" carried out by our children in our schools and encouraging acts of purposeful compassion, we can give this country something it needs - empathy.
And this was a point raised by a teacher I spoke to - one with 31 years of teaching experience. I asked her what she does when she encounters cases of bullying.
"We normally talk to the child who is doing the bullying, and we get them to imagine what it is like if they are on the receiving end of the bullying. We get them to think about what benefits they would get out of bullying in the long run, and help them to see it isn't beneficial," she said.
She added that the child who is being bullied is also helped.
"The child who is being bullied is equipped with the strength to stand up for themselves,"As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. We all need to do our part as best as possible to stop bullying before a child in our school winds up dead, either due to injuries or by their own hand. And when that happens - it'll be too late.