Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bullying the Deaf

This is my column today, August 12, 2014.


The latest victim of cyber bullying was Mininio Buhat, a student of the De La Salle -College of St. Benilde, who was crucified in social networking sites last week over a status message she posted in her Facebook account.  The status message was shot through with grammatical errors and people immediately jumped at the opportunity to ridicule, mock, and bash her.  Many people gleefully reposted her status message making various rejoinders that basically turned her into an object of shame and ridicule.  Some comments were downright mean and cruel such as the one that told her to “hang herself.”
 The orgy of bashing and shaming could have continued unabated had film director Mike Sandejas not intervened.  Sandejas suspected that Buhat was Deaf based on how the message was constructed.  Hearing impaired people, particularly those who have been born Deaf, stress key concepts rather than use complete sentences.  Obviously, English is something that Deaf people are exposed to and learn only in school —and writing in English is something that most Deaf people only get to do when pursuing higher education.  Sandejas bothered to investigate before making judgments.  His hunch was right.  Buhat was born Deaf.  She is a student at the DLS-CSB where there is a program for the Deaf.  (By the way, if you are wondering why the letter D in the word Deaf is in uppercase that is because this is the way Deaf people want to be referred to; they would prefer being referred to as hearing-impaired, but if people want to refer to them as Deaf, they would prefer that the D be in uppercase to denote their uniqueness).
 To set the record straight, Deaf people deserve understanding and a little more leeway not because they are mentally infirm, but simply because they speak another language.  It’s a linguistic problem – they speak sign language and rely more on non-verbals.  Why is it that we make allowances for Non English-speaking foreigners who mangle the English language, and even find their atrocious grammar and accents cute but are so hard on others, such as the Deaf, or even Filipinos who carry their Ilonggo or Cebuano accents when speaking in English?
 Sandejas was more diplomatic and conciliatory in pointing out other people’s cruelty.  He blotted out the names of those who mocked and ridiculed Buhat in an effort to spare them from the wrath of those who came to Buhat’s defense.  I am grateful that Sandejas came to Buhat’s rescue; but I admire him even more for being wise.  First, he did not gloat over the fact that he proved himself right; there are just too many pompous pricks in the world already who are quick to assert their moral superiority every time they think they are proven right.   Second, he resisted the temptation to commit exactly what Buhat’s bashers made, which was to ridicule and shame others for making a mistake.  The way I see it, moral victory is attained only through humility and sincerity.
I hope that the bashers and bullies who pounced on Buhat learned a valuable lesson this time around although I think there are people who need more than one humbling experience before they become cognizant of their bullying behaviors or tendencies, if at all. 
One of the pernicious effects of the social networking phenomenon is the way it has provided bullies, haters, and bigots a readily available platform to indulge their needs, and often anonymously.  Unfortunately, there are too many people who are either gullible, impressionable, lazy or just too careless who are quick to join a bandwagon. They are quick to ride on an opinion trend without bothering to apply a smidgen of critical thinking, or at least common sense, or be bothered to check the facts, or notice the fine print.  A video of someone pointing a gun at another person or of a woman seemingly harassing a child, or an article that offers an unpopular opinion, or a  clearly misleading news article with a provocative headline can immediately become the most hated, shared, or commented item in the Internet for the wrong reasons. 
I don’t think the advent of the Internet has changed the rules around acceptable and unacceptable behavior of thinking, mature adults.  We’re still supposed to be nice and respectful towards others, or at least be civilized, even when we disagree, right?


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