10/23/2011
Once again: I was bullied in high school...

Since when did all of you care about bullying?

Yes, I am being cynical. And yes, perhaps, I'm operating on another bout of self-pity. But really now. Since when did all of you care about bullying?

Lately that has been a buzzword of sorts. And I'm not just talking about all of those news stories from the United States, about a bunch of suicides from people who have been bullied by their peers. You know, those stories that try a little harder to get something inspiring out of something as sad as death. Oh, it's sad he had to commit suicide. He's actually such a nice person. I'm also thinking of all the talk about bullying here in the Philippines - of a bill, filed by a senator whose name slips me, aiming to squash bullying in Filipino schools once and for all. Or all of those reports in the media, advising parents about what to do if they think their children is being targeted by bullies in school. If your child's grades are flagging, and he's getting more anxious about going to school, be worried, they'd say.

Maybe I'm just surprised that, in the past few months, it has become quite a big deal.

Ten years ago, when I entered high school, it was a bit of an afterthought. I remember the school handbook mentioning a "zero-tolerance policy" against bullying, but not as much as the taunts I received from pretty much the whole school when I first entered. I was the new kid, the guy who came from one place and is trying hard, so hard, to adjust in another. From day one, I was called autistic. I don't even remember acting differently. Next thing I know, all of the freshmen were calling me that. The one friend I made in that first day in school left me - at least he had the guts to explain himself, saying he was being bullied as well by association. The following day, he was bullying me too.

A few weeks later, the sophomores were making fun of me. There was this guy in my school service who put bubble gum in my hair. Well, the kid was a big jerk anyway. He'd extort coins from everybody just so he could head to a computer store and play Counter Strike. And then, the juniors were making fun of me - these two guys led me to the ladies' room instead of the men's room, taking advantage of the fact that there were no signs differentiating one from the other.

And what did my section adviser do? She took me one morning to the prayer room, put her hands on my head, and prayed. A month later, I got kicked out. For slapping a girl. My only offense.

If you've been reading my blog for the past six years you'd know I attribute my cynicism to those three months in that "peace-loving" school. I was trying so hard to get by in those three months. I always had lunch at the guidance office, and spent all my free time at the library, reading all those journalism books. I got really excited when some of my classmates took interest in my frequent retelling of how good my life was back in elementary school, knowing that it's all a front anyway. I was just winging it.

Thinking of that, I still remember that paragraph I saw in the student handbook about bullying. That so-called "zero-tolerance policy". I'm not saying mine is a special case, but I only had little support from my teachers. I guess they wanted to keep the status quo, which explains why I was kicked out on my first offense. Some parent went complaining.

My parents don't like it when I get so worked up about those three months. I still do ten years later. I have many regrets in life, and to be honest, one of my biggest is getting kicked out of that school. It's a fact I can airbrush (and have airbrushed) out of official-ish records, but the fact remains that those experiences have changed me forever. It's certainly the reason why I have never been able to cope well with people. Whenever I bring that up my parents would ask me to shut up. Apparently my voice causes headaches. Apparently I should've acted like a man. Fought like a man. A tall order for a twelve-year-old who moved schools against his wishes. A tall order for a twelve-year-old who's been told, again and again, never to hurt anybody, or else you will get pink slips from school.

So what's with all the concern now? Why is it that, all of a sudden, everybody - or at least the most vocal ones - are concerned about bullying? Why are people writing articles telling you to block anybody who anonymously taunts you online? Why is there an outpouring of grief towards children who decided that life is not worth living because people told them, insistently and furiously, that they're not good enough, that they'll never be good enough?

When I heard of that anti-bullying law filed in the senate, I knew it's a bunch of bullshit. Lip service to reassure people that they are on their side. We understand that bullying causes severe psychological trauma to your children, so we're filing a bill to force schools to take action. But, sir, you don't need a law to force schools to take action. That just shows how negligent our schools, public or private, are. You don't need a law to tell schools of their basic obligation - to keep watch over the students, and to make sure that they're doing just fine. You do need a law, however, to force schools to stop giving prevalence to students (and their parents) who have been under their care for their entire schooling life - the sort that gets them flimsy "loyalty awards" during year-end ceremonies.

You do need a law that will force schools to not just pay lip service to their so-called "zero-tolerance policies" against bullying. You have to make them beyond vigilant. And you have to give them balls to address the issues as soon as they strike. Don't just talk about how wonderful life is when people get along: make it so. Pick up the bad kids, as soon as you have proof, and make sure they get what they ought to get.  Make sure everyone is treated fairly, by the book if need be, and not on the whim of parents who'll demand this and that just to get their way. You are, after all, beholden to the students, and not to those who pay the tuition fee.

You do need a law that will force everyone to change their mindsets about anything and everything that is different to them. So what if I'm gay? Or just effeminate? So what if I'm autistic? Or just feeling awkward? That doesn't mean you get the right to taunt me to death. Right now everybody is just doing lip service. Be yourself, you'd probably say, but not right here, not right now, not ever. Right now everybody is feeling bad for those suicides, but no lessons will be learned. They'll just write a few sentences, maybe post a couple of PSAs on their Facebook pages, perhaps one with their favorite Glee stars, and then nothing. You'll see someone acting differently and it all starts over again.

Then again, we are all predisposed to feel threatened, or bully, whatever, anybody who's vaguely different from us. In schools, in the workplaces, inside a car in the middle of a road trip... all this talk about ending bullying, it's a bunch of bullshit. It's still all about the status quo. It always was, and it always will be.

And your responses...

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