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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Student Suicides And September 1

Thanks to Vince for pointing out the CNN article written about how September 1 is the day in Japan when teen suicides are at its highest.

Read the article HERE… a good story about survival.

I have no idea why I didn't know that. I should have.

People might never know it by looking at me and the way I smile and carry myself, but I was bullied as a teenager back in high school.

I hated school so much that I skipped it for a week, got caught and celebrated internally when they suspended me for another week. D'uh.

I dreaded the beginning of each high school year wondering what fresh hell might be dredged up just for me.

I hated going to school so much - that I often thought about killing myself, but like the young woman in the CNN story, I thought ultimately that that was stupid… that I was letting the bad guys win.

I used my hatred of those idiots back in high school to propel me… that every little success I had was because I wanted to show them they were wrong about me being a loser.

I used to smash a soccer ball with my cleated foot propelling it away from my goal or into the opposing net picturing their faces on the ball.

I was always the youngest person in my grade. I was 12 going into Grade 9.

I was one of the few visible minorities in the school… but of course, I was also the smallest, wore glasses and was deathly shy.

To top it off, I didn't go to the Catholic high school as I could have, but choose instead to go to a Public high school where French was not mandatory.

See? I wasn't just horrible at learning Japanese.

Although good at sports, I was always chosen last for school activities in gym.

My grades reflected my internal demeanor… failing. I was told I was stupid and no-good, and I believed them.

I alternated from wanting to kill myself to wanting to bring in a gun and shoot the whole effing place up - well, just those who bullied me.

But, being in Canada, getting guns as a bit more difficult than it is in the U.S…. plus… I still maintained common sense. I hadn't snapped, despite the torment or my internal rage. I knew right from wrong. I didn't want to disappoint my parents at any cost.

I got lucky, however, with regards to the bullies.

When I was 17, and finished Grade 12, and supposed to be going into Grade 13 - something we USED to have in Ontario, Canada - but I failed three courses and was forced to remain in Grade 12 a second year… actually being with kids the same age as me for the first time ever (I did start Grade 1 as a 4-year-old… I suppose I was smart).

One of those classes was English, believe it or not. Again, see… I wasn't just horrible at Japanese.

Anyhow, over the summer, I went from being a scant 5'-0" (1.524 meters) and barely 100lbs (45.36kg), up to 5'-11-3/4" (1.82.25 meters) and 145lbs (65.77 kg) (A weight loooooong gone - thank goodness).

That next year, despite being in a grade lower than my former tormentors who still took the time to berate and torment me, I fought back. Physically.

I got into a fight a day for a couple of weeks… not caring if I won or lost… and that cowed the bullies. Bullies don't really want to fight… especially someone who doesn't care if they win or lose… you bully someone if they don't care. I lost as many fights as I won, but seeing a victim fight back gave pause to the bullies… as I earned their frightened respect.

No more nicknames… it was now "Hello Andrew", to which I either grunted a reply or just scowled at them in disgust.

I started carrying around a 2-inch pocket knife that I would keep partially open… flicking it open as though it were a switch blade by catching the tip of the blade against the back pocket of my jeans - leaving a slash through the denim… which probably confused my mother when she did the laundry… but the point wasn't to hurt anyone, it was to instill a bit of fear… to show them that I might be crazy enough to use the damn thing so leave me alone.

Pretty crazy crap, huh? But at least for the rest of Grade 12 and 13, I never had issues with bullies again… or even after that.

I still maintained my shyness through until I was 24 or so… until I entered journalism school (after getting a degree in Political science)… when it quite suddenly disappeared as I stood in line between two guys talking behind and in front of me that first day at Humber College. I decided to join their conversation and I haven't shut up since. The first day of school turned out all right for me.

After graduating from journalism school and going to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme for three years (school was fun again), I began going to the gym… going six times a week, spending two hours a day getting bigger and stronger.

But I was also much older and far more mature… but I sometimes think I did it as a safety net to ensure I would never be bullied again.

I know what it is like to be bullied… to hate yourself because of it… I understand every time some kid goes 'crazy' and shoots up a school. I understand. I pity them with compassion when I find out it was because of bullying.

I hate that they went on a killing spree or chose to commit suicide… I hate it because I, like many an adult survivor now knows, that it gets better.

Sometimes you do need to take matters in your own hands - I got into fights to pummel my way out of bullying… but that was then… this is now.

Schools do not care for bullying and want to know… tell a guidance councilor or teacher… or your parents…

I've learned since then that when everything is falling about you, talking about it really clears the head.

In Japan… things are different… there is a stupid effing philosophy that they run out from primary school, elementary school, high school and the adult workforce. I'm unsure about university, considering that is when the Japanese tend to go squarely and not give a crap about anything…

but that philosophy is" the nail that stands up gets hammered down."

The positive implications is: we all work together towards a common goal… admirable… to have a team effort.

But the negative implications are multiple: being an individual is frowned upon. Differences are not tolerated… and when differences or individuality is expressed, it is hammered down by the others in a group action of bullying.

Mob mentality at its best and definitely its worst.

Japan's school system is partially to blame… actually it's all of Japan for allowing the attitude to flourish... but let's start with the school system… a system whereby each class has a group leader for the boys and one for the girls… whose job it is is to ensure the rest of the kids walk the line.

And when they don't, they are allowed a fair bit of leeway in bringing the troublemaker back to the group side.

They're teenagers…. kids… immature adults… so obviously they have no idea what 'leeway' can ensue, and often go to extremes to bully people into compliance.

And the teachers see what is going on… and allow it to happen… because society says that is okay.

Japan needs to give its head a really long and proper shake and stop believing it long-dead bushido (way of the warrior) samurai history as still needing to exist in the 21st century.

It works on many levels, but it fails on so many others.

We all know plenty of people who have been bullied... but what about the one's being bullied now?  

September 1… Japan's own day of infamy.
Andrew Joseph