As Cruel As

Given that this blog is predominantly about my experiences here in Korea, I’d best explain how this came up. First, last week I had to judge an essay contest at my school. The students had to write about what they felt schools could do about bullying. Nearing the end of the pile of essays – strung out on too much coffee, lack of sleep and the strain of having graded too many essays in a row (a condition for which a good friend coined the term marking BoNk). In the midst of my marking BoNk, I had to wonder if I was still being neutral. This is not a topic I’m neutral about. Secondly, a friend posted a video in one of the Facebook groups I’m part of yesterday. It was a TED talk that Shane Koyczan did. I reposted the video that it was about here. I’m still nervous about this post. I fear it may be somewhat too honest.

So there’s this internal debate I’ve had for a number of years. Do I get to say I was bullied at school? Do I? How do we define bullying? No one hit me, if I had a nickname that stuck, I don’t remember it now. I just remember kids excluding me – by accident even – and saying hurtful things, both to me and about me. Does that count? Does it?

I know I didn’t consider myself to be victim of any kind of bullying act until I was in high school. In about Gr 9, my school’s vice principal handed out a questionnaire for us to fill out about “peer victimisation” and I found myself relating to a lot of the questions that were being asked. I didn’t understand the title of the survey – but when it did hit me at the end of the survey, I was tempted to go back and change my answers. School may have been an unpleasant place for me, but I wasn’t being bullied. No. I wasn’t. I was attending a good school, a Christian school, where that kind of thing didn’t happen.

But I didn’t change my answers. The survey was anonymous after all.

Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.

Besides, the way people spoke about me, the way they excluded me, I brought that on myself, didn’t I? It was the punishment I received for being an awkward kid, who hadn’t quite found the right deodorant or shampoo. I was an ordinary, middle-class kid in a school for rich kids. My parents spent a great deal of money on keeping me in a good school, so I wore second hand clothes, and my mom and grandmother made my school uniform for me. I didn’t have what they had, and I couldn’t do what they did, and I couldn’t go where they went. I was a shy, awkward, unattractive, somewhat overweight kid. This was the price I had to pay for not fitting in. Besides, they could have been a lot worse about it. School was something I survived. I put in as little effort as necessary to get through – socially and academically – and waited for university. This lack of effort is still what makes me feel like I deserved some of what I got.

I know that so many other people all over the world had (and have) it worse than I did. There were kids at my school who had it worse than I did. I know, because I saw it. I was more than ready to exclude and look down on anyone who was further down the social ladder than I was. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t fit in more than I didn’t fit in. They had to pay for that. Defending them would have made me sink further, so I didn’t do anything. I just watched.

… as cruel as only school children can be.

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