My editor called me this morning.
He told me that I had been namechecked on an online forum for an opinion piece I wrote on National Service last Sunday, and it wasn’t pleasant reading.
A great deal of what was written wasn’t very nice to say the least, and it hurt, reading those comments. Then it made me indignant.
My first thought was that I’m only sharing my feelings about going into NS. I was not “selling” NS or putting myself above the rest. Neither was I attempting to force my ideals on others. Far from it. I was simply sharing my thoughts and aspirations.
I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong. Yet I was attacked for my views.
Then I stopped to think why I was feeling so angry. Then it struck me: I was being cyberbullied.
I’m not naming the forum. That’s because the forum itself isn’t really the issue. These hurtful comments could have been posted anywhere. It is the Internet after all, where keyboard warriors hide behind their screens and say anything under the sun to bring others down.
I looked at some of the profiles of the posters. Aside from their online monikers, there was little other information. I didn’t dig further. They didn’t do me the same courtesy though. My photo and bio was shared and someone even suggested that I may be a fake profile (I’m glad to say that the last I checked, I still existed).
Fair comment vs personal attacks
There were fair comments on the forum. People rightfully called me out on writing about something that I haven’t experienced. Which was kind of why I wrote it in the first place – it is a perspective of someone who hasn’t gone for NS.
I realised that I was okay, and even happy to a certain extent, to get feedback on what I wrote. After all, that’s what a forum is for – to share different perspectives and opinions.
But it was the personal attacks that didn’t sit right with me, which was what made me feel bullied.
Comments ranged from “who the **** is he?” (fair enough, not many people know me) to telling me to shut up without any follow-up (fair, but not really helpful).
Calling me naive is fair. Calling me a dog and other unprintable names is not.
Telling me that I haven’t experienced the frustration of NS life is fair, telling me that they hope that I get bullied in NS is not.
Calling me overweight is fair. Using a derogatory term for overweight people to label me is not. And using that to try to shame me as a person certainly is not. It’s my body but it doesn’t define who I am.
When I heard about these comments from my editor, I knew I had two choices: I could hunker down, stay quiet and wait for the storm of negativity to pass. Like many others who have been bullied, online or off, sometimes it is easier to wait for the bullies to find another target.
I’m choosing to speak up.
What I wrote on Sunday (and even here) is my opinion and it may turn out to be wrong. People can disagree and criticise and it is totally fair to do so. This is what we want our online forums to be: To debate and argue over the merits of ideas openly.
But we should disagree without tearing other people down or resorting to personal attacks.
Learning something about myself
In that light, I processed the experience in the hope of learning something new about myself.
The majority of the criticism came under the same theme: That I was in no position to comment on NS because I have yet to serve.
Despite what these posters might think of me, I actually agree with them to an extent.
It was never my intention to pretend to know what NS life would be like. That was why I did my research, reading up on different forums and speaking with other older Singaporean men who have done their National Service to hear their opinions.
Then, based on that, I shared what I personally hoped to get out of my NS experience.
I am well aware that NS is a trying period that tests even the strongest of individuals.
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I believed that the article might help my fellow pre-enlistees strengthen their mental fortitude to tackle whatever comes their way during their service. It was not meant to give them false hope.
Some of the criticism also mentioned that my piece is “all talk”. That’s true, I am just talking – about how we can look positively at serving NS. That’s better than just sitting there and soaking in negativity. After all, like it or hate it, we have to go through it. Why not embrace it instead of being bitter and unhappy?
Another common theme was that expectations differ greatly from reality, positivity is futile and my NS experience would be far worse than anything I am expecting.
Comments included examples of how I would suffer and that nothing positive will come out of it.
I accept that I may very well face nothing but negative moments in NS which might make my time inside harder. That is possible. Like it or not, I can’t control that.
But I believe that it’s important to rise above misfortune and obstacles. This applies not only in NS, but in any scenario – it could be the start of a new school year, a new career or any new stage in life.
Every experience is an opportunity to learn. Instead of wallowing in negative experiences and letting them dictate who we are, we can use them to improve on ourselves.
I expect that my NS experiences – both good and bad – will be unlike any other. The direction in which the wind blows is out of my hands. But how I respond and grow from it, is in nobody’s hands but mine.
To everyone who has responded to that article, thank you for your feedback.
To those who understood my point of view and sent me well wishes for the journey ahead, I appreciate it. I hope I will be looking back fondly two years down the road.
To those who have criticised my ideas, I respect it as well. I will use that to adjust my expectations and to brace myself for the coming challenges.
Some of us will look back on our service with a smile and reminisce on the good ol’ days. Others will lambast it as a complete waste of time and liken it to the bane of our existence.
Whichever side I end up on remains to be seen. Until then, I’ll be keeping an open mind and continue to be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow.