Been watching a programme here in the UK called ‘Educating Yorkshire’ following stories and struggles of the students and teachers at a secondary school. By the end of it, I was feeling angry.
I was particularly intrigued by the story of a young, beautiful and articulate girl called Hadiqa. She grew up in other countries, moved around and spoke and acted very differently to the rest of the students. At one point, when asked about her perspective of a quote, which she was explaining so nicely, the other students laughed and did THAT look.
I always challenge any student in my training, who laughs at confidence, talent or passion. That laughter beats the confidence out of those who have it.
We need to create a culture where we support & encourage people to speak up- venture their thoughts & show confidence. It’s weak to laugh at people. The real talent & confidence of a student with so much potential is otherwise overshadowed.
What made this quite personally moving for me, is how similar Hadiqa’s story is to my own. When I moved to England, I had lived in 4 different countries and spoke very differently, stood out and was bullied.
The difference is, I REFUSED to be put in their box. Instead, aged 13, I looked outside the school, became co-founder of a youth organisation and kept myself busy. I remember standing up in assembly and presenting petitions to set up a UK-wide organisation (which later became UK Youth Parliament) and of course the students laughed.
My years at secondary school were HELL for me. I felt I was being held back. I told myself it is a stepping-stone- ‘Melody, focus and get the grades you need then get out- you’re going to do bigger things’. In the meantime, I gave of myself to my community (which later became my career incidentally). This fed my soul and kept me going.
They criticised everything from the way I stood to the way I carried my bag even the good grades I got. It seems, everyone had to be the exact same to fit in.
I remember one girl, after getting our latest English homework back, said with a sneer “Melody, how the hell did you get an A in English- you’re not even English!”
I remember a time when a group of girls tricked me into going somewhere to beat me up. We were in year 8 and had a school disco that night. Louise, one of the most popular girls, came up to me in one of the English lessons and said; “Melody- you’re coming to the disco aren’t you? Oh you have to- we want to clap when you dance!” Thought it really weird that she was being so nice. I later found out that she just wanted to make sure I was there, as one of her friends wanted to beat me up. Of course I still showed up, danced and of course they never dared.
Being brought up in a Persian culture and having grown up in Sweden, has made me quite a straight forward person- I say what I mean and I deal with people directly. I remember one of the days in school- I walked up to a girl who I heard wanted to ‘get me’ because I’d been ‘slagging her off’. I happened to walk past her on her way into her Art class. I stopped her and said; “Lyndsay- I heard you were angry at me. I don’t recall saying anything to you or about you- what’s going on?’ She smiled and told me she had no idea- and was really nice to me. I walked away thinking, must’ve all been a misunderstanding.
That day, after school and on my way home, a gang of girls and boys (must’ve been about 6 of them) stopped me- all gathered around me and wanted to know why I had attacked Lyndsay. I remember standing my ground, keeping my voice strong and my head very high. Never showed fear. Of course, when I got home that day, it was a different story, as once again, I was reminded that I was going through hell.
It didn’t help that the school I went to was 99.9% white British, with little exposure to various cultures. When I got there, people asked me whether in Iran (where civilization began), we had toilets or not.
Some people say these experiences fueled them to succeed. Not for me, although it hurt, it didn’t fuel me. Revenge or proving a point to anyone, was never my motivation. I never wished them bad either- and even now, so many years on, I have zero anger towards anyone. Instead I am fueled by creating impact and fulfilling my potential.
So many young people have a lot of potential – but it’s beaten out of them. They give in to trying to fit into people’s narrow boxes.
These days I rarely think about that time of my life…. The times when I would cry almost every day, wishing for that chapter in my life to end. Watching ‘Educating Yorkshire’ sparked something in me and brought those feelings back. I am one of the fortunate ones though. Not every student who is bullied, is able to fight it and still be themselves in a world which is constantly trying to make you fit.
What upsets me though is the culture. THAT is the real issue it may take years and years to put right but I am confident we will. As a professional speaker, I attend a lot of educational establishments and speak to students. I always remind them- it’s not big to laugh at people. Next time the kid with bright eyes and wild dreams shows you passion or talent- pat them on the back and say ‘that’s great mate- keep it up!’
To those reading this, who are going through what I went through, or heaven forbid, even worse; remember, it’s just a phase. The behavior of a bully is a reflection on them, not you. Know who you are, be strong and do not compromise. Find something which you enjoy and fill your life with it. And finally- a lesson I learned 2 weeks into year 7 was; it’s better to be alone than compromising yourself just so you fit in. Because those boxes that they desperately force you to fit into, are not worth belonging to anyway.
The more horrible someone is to you- the nicer, you should be to the world. Don’t allow your sadness to become anger or resentment. Turn it into giving- that’s how I became to be a social entrepreneur. Happiness and giving is the greatest healer.
Thank you for reading this very emotional and personal chapter. As always, you can tweet / instagram me @Melody_Hossaini.
For speaking enquiries: info@inspirEngage.com