Was it right to circulate the school bullying video?

That is the question that a friend asked after the video of the student from Shuqun Secondary School bullying his classmates went viral. Should the person who took the video have just alerted the school and let the school handle instead? Should people who have seen the video not spread it and allowed the relevant authorities to manage the situation?

There is no disputing that the bullying had a real adverse impact on the victim. He did not feel safe going to school. To the extent that he started going to school later than he did before the bullying. For a student to learn properly, he must feel that he is in a safe learning environment. The victim’s quality of learning must have suffered as a result of the bullying.

As it turns out, at least one of the boys being bullied had been a victim of the same bully for at least five months. The victim had reported the bullying incidents to his teacher. The teacher said that she would keep a look out for him. But that did not stop the bullying. Whatever else the teacher did, they were insufficient to stop the bullying.

That is not surprising. The bully continued to bully the victim even when there was a teacher in the classroom. Granted, that teacher in the classroom is an adjunct teacher and not the actual teacher of the class. But it still points to the ineffectiveness of whatever measures the school took to stop the bullying.

All that changed when the video went viral. The school was compelled to take firmer action. The bully now knows that there are people watching him. He knows that there is intense outrage against his actions. He will likely think twice before repeating his offence.

Similarly for other people who may be minded to be bullies. They now know that the wider community is watching them. They know that they will have to face the collective outrage of the community should they engage in such unacceptable behaviour. I believe that knowing that such behaviour will be filmed and spread virally will make would-be bullies think twice.

Of course, that alone is not ideal. The ideal would be a situation where the victim himself learns to stand up for himself, that he does not, through his sanction, give his bully power. As the character John Galt in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged said:

“Then I saw what was wrong with the world, I saw what destroyed men and nations, and where the battle for life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality—and that my sanction was its only power. I saw that evil was impotent—that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real—and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it. Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce, just as they were counting on my self-immolation to provide them with the means of their plan… it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values—the impotence of death. I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was ‘No.’”

What would also be ideal is the people around the victim banding together and standing up against the bully. Individually, those around the victims may be weaker than the bully. But there are more of them, and together they are stronger. What is stopping them from standing up for the victim against the bully?

Perhaps fear? Perhaps apathy? Perhaps both and because they bully isn’t picking on them so it’s none of their business? But we should remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I hope that we are able to all nurture that courage to stand up against bullies, either for ourselves or for those who are really too weak to stand up for themselves. It is not natural to Singaporeans to do so. In fact, most Singaporeans would think you crazy. But hopefully, this form of craziness will one day be the norm.

Until such a day comes, perhaps a small step towards getting rid of bullying is to let them know that we are all watching and we will not hesitate to pile the pressure on you to stop the bullying. And for that reason alone, I think it is right to take the video and let it go viral.

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