Friday, May 25, 2007


Like in America, once the media in Japan says that something is a national epidemic, it becomes the hottest topic of conversation and everyone begins forming their opinion on the subject. As someone who works with children in the public school system, the big topic is bullying and its relationship to teenage suicide (don't do it). I shouldn't make bad 80's movie jokes, as suicide is not really an issue to laugh at, however, I do believe that most people phase their eyes away from the bigger picture surrounding this issue.

If you've ever known a person with severe depression who has discussed their feelings about suicide with you, you realize that there is no one thing that can be pointed to as a sole reason of wanting to die. It is something massive, like a shadow from the sky, something that cannot be explained like this: Q-Why did you hang yourself before your family woke up this morning? A-Because those boys bullied me.

Today, at our regional meetings, we discussed the issue of getting the shy and "cool" kids in our classes to participate more in class. Eventually, the subject meandered into the realm of our responsibilities with discipline which then trickled into the perfect segway into each of us giving our opinions on school bullying. Though there may be slight sarcasm in my tone, I, of course, have my own feelings on the subject but kept quiet in order to gauge the opinions of the others.

I disagreed with the concensus. What a surprise, right?

Well, I think that ignoring youngsters' need for guidance is terrible. Everyone seemed focused on disciplining the bully and using force to stop them from inducing force onto others. I don't mean to sound like that hippy teacher from Beavis and Butthead, but I will. I think that children, especially these kids, are not idiots nor do they lack a sense of empathy that many kids grown by MY culture currently lack. I believe that if the topic is brought up in an informal type of discussion about why people bully and what it must be like to be bullied without making accusations or allegations, then you can give people a chance to ponder over their actions without feeling threatrened and accused. When people feel like they recognize their own problems instead of having them told to them by another, they are more likely to try and change them. So, perhaps if you can subtlely get people to realize their anti-social, cruel tendencies, then maybe you can help them identify anonymously, while fixing anonymously.

Bullying is a part of life. Food chain, survival of the fittest, a necessity of evolution, Darwin may say. In a way, I agree. I think back to how I've played the bully. As the oldest of 5 children, I have always acted as the leader, boss, instigator, which all equate to bully. I teased, manipulated, and intimidated my younger siblings, especially my brother. When I think back to what the cause of my anger was, I realize that picking on my brother was how I channeled the anger that came from parents onto me. People learn their social skills from their family and friends. Habits are built, not born. Educating people on how to question themselves can probably be one of the greatest lessons you can learn.

On the other hand, when I think back to the times that I have been bullied, when I'd hide from Casey in 2nd grade, or when I was ceaselessly teased for being poor because my mom bought me bubbles to give as a kris-kringle gift, or when Alejandra told all my friends that I was in love with her in 8th grade, those are the things that made me who I am now. Maybe a little paranoid and untrusting, but insistant on finding true friends who understand love rather than trivial acquaintances who offer nothing but emptiness and chatter. During my bouts with being hated, I learned what meanness felt like, which I hope has influenced me into wanting to avoid hurting others in that way. So i am in agreement with the phrase: what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Unless the strength feels like weakness and you kill yourself.

Let's get back onto the subject of the suicide trend. Perhaps a closer look at the Japanese culture is in order. If you take a look on how suicide has been viewed throughout history, you will see that it is seen as a death associated with honor. You are caught by a rival samurai? HiriKiri. Strength, bravery, honor.

When you study the lives of teenagers in Japan, you begin to realize that most of their time is spent in school. Arriving around 8am, leaving at about 8pm, after their club activities. Spending Saturdays involved with their clubs, well, they seem to spend very little time at home. When you watch the interactions between the kids at school, you see strong bonds of love and friendship among them, which of course is fostered by the amount of time and cooperation these kids share with each other. So imagine this.....A student is born to a set of parents who aren't very socialable people. Perhaps they do not interact much with their family, so they read become engrossed in lives described in books. At school, they find it hard to overcome their shyness and speak with people and eventually the people forget they exist. That is, until it is time for class presentations, or when they must get up to the front of the class and speak. They are laughed at. Due to the increasing absence of homelife, and their inability to intermingle and find connections in school, they become detached from society, from love, from a sense of belonging. These are the things that make life seem unlivable.

How to solve things like this? Talk. Talk about your feelings. Ask. Ask people how they feel. Be there. Unfortunately, we are not all fluent in Japanese, which makes this impossible to do here. No wonder our responsibilities are so limited.

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