An Open Letter to the Mee Toh School Student Who Was Bullied on Her Birthday: YOU’RE NOT ALONE
An open letter from theAsianparent Group CEO, Roshni Mahtani.
Dear little warrior,
I read about what happened to you through Education Minister Ong’s admonishment, and I read the hateful words your classmates wrote as your “birthday present”.
They had no right to ruin your special day; and while we always say that birthdays are the time to “grow older and wiser”, it is in no way fair that you were forced to. I’m sorry. You’ve learned too early how cruel some people can be, how precious trust really is.
You can crumple the sheet of paper they wrote that nasty message on, tear it to pieces. But when words are used that way – as weapons – they are so sharp that they leave scars long after they’re physically gone.
Though words have the power to hurt, they can also heal. I hope these words will help you in some small way: My dear, you are not alone.
Even when your world gets dark no matter how bright and sunny it is outside, even when you feel so alone you can’t speak, and even when your friends turn on you, you are not alone.
You have your sister, who loves you so much, your family, your real friends (whether you have them in your life now or you’ll meet them later on), you have me – as someone who’s been bullied too.
I speak of this so rarely; in fact, I kept the hurt to myself for so very long that I only started opening up about it last year. It happened either in Primary 6 or in Secondary 1 (my memory fails me) when I was 12.
More than 20 years later, I still remember lines from that “love letter” they wrote on our school’s foolscap paper. In 20-25 different handwritings were sentences that all began with “We hate you because you are….”
WE. Not I. They all decided to hate me. Together – as if their solidarity justified their feelings, their actions. Let me tell you now, very few things in this world justify hate. Who you are – your name, the colour of your skin, the languages you speak – is NOT one of them. They see this as your weakness; turn your uniqueness into your armour.
Be proud of everything about you. That’s how you’ll deflect every mean thing that comes your way.
Work hard on your own greatness. Step by step, day by day, move towards being so successful that those who bullied you won’t be worth a cent of your time – when you’ve achieved your dreams and they’re still busy pulling others down.
Be better. Love where others hate.
That last one was the hardest for me to do, because it turned out that the only person I’d ever confided in about this – my best friend – was actually the one who chided the kids into writing me that hate letter.
At that age, I couldn’t quite process the betrayal and the attack on my personhood. So the pain persisted within me, latching onto my insecurities. Had I let go and moved on earlier, I would have shed quite the burden.
Be stronger than I was, little warrior. Because back then, I let it define me. And now it’s so clearly behind me. Get there sooner than I did, then write back to me so we can celebrate your birthday properly. I cannot wait to see your smile light up a room filled with people who love you.
She’s not alone.
According to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 26% of the 15-year-old Singaporean students surveyed “reported being bullied at least a few times a month.” 23 percent was the average across 79 countries/economies.
I don’t know if you are as staggered by this number as I am, but that’s 1 in every 4.
Many don’t realize how many forms of bullying there really are. It’s not just that stereotype of being pushed around in the playground. Social exclusion (like the result of nasty rumours), verbal assaults/threats, and cyber-bullying are part of the spectrum.
Let’s talk to our kids about bullying. Help them be aware of boundaries, such as: when words can be hurtful (e.g. calling someone fat), how far we should go for our friends, and when to stand up to a bully vs. when to tell a grown-up.
When opportunities arise to discuss trickier topics like telling on a friend or following your moral compass, don’t hesitate to have these discussions with your child. A movie or a book might provide good segues for these teaching moments.
Because you never know (unless it’s too late) if you’re child is being bullied, is a bully without knowing it, or is a bystander who has an inkling to help but has no clue how to go about it.
We’re raising the future. Let’s fill it with kindness. Mee Toh School Student