BULLYING—A very hot topic nowadays. People choose schools depending on how prevalent bullying is in those schools. At least I know of a friend who wouldn’t transfer her kids to a good school, with better facilities and more value for money pricing, because she heard that bullying was quite an issue in that school. I know this of course, because she asked me about it since my eldest daughter, 14, just finished 8th grade in that school.
My daughter didn’t deny that there was bullying happening all around her school. One of her closest friends became a victim of cyber-bullying a few years back and that contributed to her transferring to another school. My daughter, assured me, however, that she had never been bullied (or maybe not to the extent that she couldn’t handle it) and she had never been a bully (or so I hope).
All this talk about bullying made me think about my own high-school days, initially thinking that thank God there weren’t any incidents back in my day. Until I really thought about it. Recently, I remembered a discussion I had with my high-school batchmates and still close friends, where we unearthed some random instances that could be considered bullying. That made me think long and hard, and I realized, I have been both a victim and bully, myself.
Victim…there was this episode in GLEE where Kurt Hummel, an openly gay character in High School was voted as the Prom Queen, as a joke and to make him an object of ridicule. I remember my freshman year. I was small, thin, awkward. I never had any illusions that I would be considered pretty at that stage. I have not yet come into my own, so to speak. But I had gorgeous classmates. I mean, drop-dead gorgeous! We were in an all-girl school so we didn’t have any choice but to admire girls as well. Anyway, it was “Linggo ng Wika” or week of our National Language, Pilipino, and there were activities geared towards this theme for the week. One of the activities was to vote or elect a “Binibining Linggo ng Wika” per class. So of course, come nomination time, the names of the gorgeous girls were mentioned one by one. The last name on the list, nominated by someone, who come to think of it, was someone who kept on telling me I was pretty (in a way that you know she meant the opposite), was mine. I wanted to shrink into invisibility. What happened next was something out of the Glee episode. My nominator chanted my name and everyone else followed suit. So, I won. And my teacher, who knew what was happening, didn’t make a big deal out of it, so after that incident, I sort of forgot about it. I didn’t tell anyone, and I didn’t dwell on it (at least I don’t think I did), because what I did was to do so good in school and be part of every activity that by the end of my High School years, I graduated with honors, got tons of awards, and became quite popular that I was able to forget that incident ever happened. But I do remember the moment clearly, even until now, more than 30 years after. To a certain extent, that incident made me feel that I wasn’t pretty enough or good enough to be taken seriously. That I was a joke. But it made me strive harder and made me fight more to overcome that “feeling”.
I was also taunted endlessly during my Freshman year in High School because my sister was our Math teacher. I would hear snide remarks about how I would have advanced knowledge of what the quizzes or exams would be because my sister would let me see them before she gives it to the class. It got so bad that I purposely did bad in those tests to prove them wrong. Obviously, it backfired, because my sister found out about it and she gave me a good talking to. She said, if I have a clean conscience and we are not doing anything wrong, I should never have to feel that I have to change to please other people. So what happened? I got the highest grades during my Freshman year. Sure, the taunts continued, but when I did the same for my Sophomore, Junior and Senior years when my sister was no longer my Math teacher, and when I graduated High School with the award of Math Wizard, all the taunts have all been silenced. And those that taunted me before were some of those who asked my help in Math assignments, etc. Full circle.
Another bullying incident in High School happened when I have already come to my own. I was confident, and quite popular, because I was a good singer. I did manage to find my strength (aside from academics). Being a good singer and popular had its drawbacks. I was known, so whenever people needed a partner to sing a duet, they would always think of me (as if by having me as a partner, it was an assurance that the performance would be flawless, no matter what their talent level). So it went that a campus heartthrob (again, also a girl, but she was a very gwapo/handsome girl who had taken on the role of the “boy” in our school who everyone had a crush on) asked me to be her duet partner. I had a crush on her so I agreed. What followed were weeks of practice sessions and phone sessions to perfect the performance. I was in cloud nine. Sadly, the performance elicited more laughs than applause—a duet with only one person singing in tune or with the right timing will never be a good duet. What happened after the performance was that the campus heartthrob’s “ON” (okay, again since we were in an all-girls school, the extent of everyone’s social life is having “on” partners—sort of like an MU. Normally, this “relationship” only amounted to being together on campus constantly, holding hands, giving each other letters and gifts and maybe phoning each other. It is not a gay thing, because everyone was into it (although whether or not this “accepted” behavior did launch some of the girls into a gay lifestyle is another discussion altogether). So again, campus heartthrob’s ON suddenly started harassing me. It appeared she didn’t like the amount of time that campus heartthrob was spending with me, even after the performance was done. When I remember it, it is classic bullying, as she was with her “backup minions”, sort of like Malfoy with Crabbe and Goyle, and they would corner me and tell me off. It got so bad that I did “back-off”.
So, I had been a victim in High School. But I also had been a bully at some point. There were people in school that were constantly ridiculed or shunned and I have to admit that at some point, I was party to some of the attacks, if only because I didn’t do anything to help and maybe I laughed and jeered as well. I am not proud of it, but I know that I have tried very hard NOT to be that kind of person – a bully.
Come to think of it, bullying is happening EVERYWHERE, and not only in schools. The workplace is a potent place for bullying, and I have had my share of BULLIES trying to get one over me and trying to put me down. At the end of the day, it is how you react and address the bullying that determines the kind of person you are. If you are still in school, it helps to have a good support system – family, friends—so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, and if it goes too far, you have people to tell who will help you. If you are in the REAL world, again a good support system is key. As this is the real world, you have the choice to fight back, if you are in the right. You also have the choice to take yourself away from the situation, if that is the best course of action available. But there will always be BULLIES in our lives and the earlier we learn how to deal with them, the better it is for us in the long run.
In closing, I think of the bullies that went through my life and I have seen that those high-school bullies have matured enough to accept that fact that they have been bullies and hopefully they have changed their ways. The workplace bullies are a different matter altogether of course, as they are already grown up. My recourse was to remove myself from the situation. I now work relatively more in peace as a work from home IT/Project Management Consultant for a multi-national. I don’t have to deal with office politics and bullies every again.
As for my kids, I just try to be someone that they can turn to and be open to anytime they need to. I will not be able to coddle and protect them every single time. I survived, and so will they.