The Great Mental Escape

I am 36 and the Chief Technology Officer of the bank at the forefront of housing development financing in the Maldives. However, prior to turning 11 years of age, I was nothing close to developing into the confident leader that I am now.

At age 8 I stopped playing football because parents watching from the sidelines accused me of being overaged simply because I was taller than the other kids. Some of my fellow classmates finally found a gentle giant that they could bully, which made themselves feel powerful. Once, I got poked with the end of a compass and got an infection that lasted a week.

However, like all 'strong boys', I refused to make a big deal of it - I was often given the Maldivian equivalent of the line 'making a mountain of a mole hill'. Yet, every once in a while I had to fend off a bully willing to test just how pacific the gentle giant was. It helped that I was the tallest kid around - that I was nice to everyone, including the victims of bullying, did not help so much. The only reason why I did not push back was primarily due to lessons I was learning from books by authors like R.L. Stevenson (particularly Treasure Island) and Enid Blyton (I especially recall the Barnaby mysteries and Secret Seven).

When I turned 11, I was gifted an 8088 personal computer by my Uncle, for the high scores I was receiving in school. That changed my life!

Being an avid reader, it did not take me long to assimilate the knowledge to start programming in languages like BASIC, C and Foxbase. I learned a lot from a software studio that my uncle introduced me to, and I started realizing that I was slowly getting as good at software development as some of the professionals working there.

I started becoming more confident as I honed my programming skills. As my confidence grew, my need for seeking the acceptance of my peers diminished. When I turned 12, I had enough confidence to join the school brass band - which I quit of my own accord a year later to concentrate more on my studies. I even got back into sports and joined the volleyball team, and later the basketball team - I ended up being the starting center in my high school team.

After I turned into one of the 'cool kids', I did not become yet another conformist. I had enough of a mental foundation to know what my limits were and how not to discriminate against anyone. So, I ended up being the jock who hung around with the 'nerds', which did not go unnoticed of course. However, no one could physically take on me, nor could they frazzle me with annoyances.

So, what was my secret?

Firstly, I was blessed by God with a bigger physique, which helped a lot. Some of the friends I was looking out for - unbeknownst to them to this day - were less fortunate and suffered physical abuse in school.

Secondly, I know that the books I was reading helped a lot. Writers like Enid Blyton go to great pains to incorporate valuable life lessons into their books. Five of my childhood favourites revolve around the subjects of equality, justice and respect: Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Little Women and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. These are books that every parent should install in their child's reader.

Lastly, acquiring a special skill helped immensely with my self-esteem. I did not quite understand how until some years later. Learning a special skill, something that one can fall in love with and nurture as a passion, helps one know that he/she can contribute to the great circle of life. It can be seemingly simple skills like sewing or complex ones like theoretical physics. I believe that the proclivities of children must be reinforced by providing them the necessary resources.

Even without aid from their elders, the vast majority of children are extremely resourceful. If their elders fail to give them the needed support they often find it on their own - usually in literature. However, once in a while, a child can end up losing hope in the absence of support from their elders or peers. Once in a while, the bullying gets to them.

Sometimes a parent may not be able to tell when this happens to their child. Sometimes parents may not be able to intervene directly even if they knew, particularly since bullying is oftentimes very hard to demarcate. But they can always give the child the knowledge and confidence to weather the bullying. It will also help to aid children find strong allies in their schools.

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