(File pix) Bullying is not limited to physical assault. Verbally tormenting someone with the intention to harm is just as damaging.

AS we inch closer to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, I can’t help but think of the parents who have recently lost their children to the hands of bullies.

Cheerful Raya songs will be playing everywhere, there will be fireworks and open houses to visit, but they won’t be able to join in the festivities as they will be mourning a huge loss in their lives.

How did bullying among teens and young adults in Malaysia come to this extreme?

Whenever I read the details of a bullying case that ends tragically, I find it so disturbing that young people can harbour so much rage. Under no circumstances can it be considered normal for someone to lash out on another until there is no ounce of humanity left in him.

It is NOT normal to express anger in such a way. Where did these young people learn to inflict such sadistic bodily harm? Did they learn it from an abusive household or from violent media content?

It is important to highlight that bullying is not limited to physical assault; verbally tormenting someone with the intention to harm them is just as damaging.

One can argue that the psychological impact caused by prolonged verbal abuse is equally as detrimental as physical bullying.

Let us not dismiss the suicide cases where victims endured months, sometimes even years, of verbal assaults before ending their lives. I don’t think this even needs to be mentioned — people should know that hurtful words can cause long-lasting damage to one’s self-esteem.

There are two key institutions that play a vital role in curbing bullying: homes and schools. It is not enough to solely rely on government campaigns to tackle bullying; it needs to be addressed at the grassroots.

Students spend majority of their time at home and school. Therefore, these are the institutions that need to be proactive in tackling the issue of bullying.

Like charity, everything begins at home — violence, vulgarity and insolence are learnt and reinforced behaviour. The kind of behaviour that people carry forward into adulthood, whether it is upright or corrupt, are habits that have been enabled by the people around them.

There is a reason why certain social taboos withstand the test of time. For example, in all Asian societies, disrespecting the elderly is highly frowned upon.

This taboo has remained even throughout modern times because members of society reinforce it to the point it no longer needs to be exhaustively explained; it has become an integral part of Asian societal values.

Just as disrespecting elders is deemed a shameful act and we shame those who do it, there is no good reason for bullying to not be dealt with in the same way. Shame is not a dirty word although it has gotten a bad reputation for being associated with the likes of body-shaming, gender-shaming, etc.

In this day and age, the concept of shaming has become so controversial as it humiliates the wrongdoer, but shame is a very natural and effective deterrent for unacceptable behaviour.

If bullying was an indisputably shameful act, both parents and teachers, the ones who are shaping the minds of future generations, would take bolder moves to put an end to it.

According to some anthropologists, cultures can be divided into shame and guilt cultures. Guilt is an inward mechanism and shame an outward one. Guilt refers to a natural, in-built mechanism that produces strong feelings of remorse when someone has done something wrong, to the point that they need to correct the matter.

If misconduct is no longer shamed, eventually, what this does is disable naturally occurring deterrents to misbehaviour. Having said that, people must understand the difference between shaming someone and ruthlessly bashing them, the latter being something widely done on the Internet.

We need to start evaluating what mindset and behaviours that we as a society are shaming and upholding — are we deterring and encouraging the right values?

Both homes and schools should check and balance each other; when one is lacking, the other should play the supporting role, because more often than not, many children are unfortunate enough to come from unstable households.

If bullies themselves are products of a problematic childhood, teachers have to let young people know that no matter what they are going through, taking out their frustration on another person does no good to them or the person they are lashing out on.

Parents and teachers have an obligation to ensure that schools are a safe space for students. Teachers, too, have to set an example.

It doesn’t make sense to have teachers tell students that bullying is wrong if they are unkind to their students.

I have friends with children as young as 8 being called “stupid” by their teachers in front of their classmates. It may not have been intentional, but to me, this is also bullying.

It is 2017, we have stunning infrastructure and complex transport systems, let us not neglect how we treat one another.

Material success means nothing if we do not have a benevolent society to boot. I do not want a future generation of Malaysians that are insensitive and void of compassion because it was not made clear to them that mistreatment towards others is a destructive behaviour.

Raja Sarina Iskandar is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millennial trying to make a difference, starting with herself

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