How quickly the void of an uncertain future has been replaced with a new normal. On the eve of a hot summer, with impulses setting in to be perched outside soaking in as much vitamin D as possible, it is even more impressive to see the majority of us aspiring to alter our behaviour for the greater good. It is testament to our ability to adapt to external change in the style of Darwin’s mechanism, as well as our devotion to do our own small bit in order to contribute towards the national effort, that has tackled the single most destructive pandemic the 21st Century has seen. And our way of coping with entering this unfamiliar territory has also been very 21st Century. Zoom pub quizzes and online fitness classes are just some of the boundless examples of how we are all making the most of our lives despite the invisible chaos raging on outside our homes.
It seems that there has been a much-needed recalibration of things that we have previously taken for granted. One of the small silver linings that can be drawn from this collective experience has been the widespread questioning of the status quo; in the search for answers during a desperate situation, nothing is spared from being examined under the microscope, even what was considered entrenched.
The original purpose of the internet, that being to connect us with the people we care about the most, has seemed to resurface after a decade of permeating loneliness within the dark recesses of chat forums and influencers using advertising as a means to extort us for our deep-seated inadequacies. But I like this new internet, as it must bear a resemblance to what the boffins behind APRANET or Tim Berners-Lee had been trying to construct decades ago. I have made more meaningful contact with those closest to me in the past month that I had for the past several years, and yet this is when I have been at my most physically isolated. It’s made me question how much of this revolutionary technology, which has only existed for a short breath in the context of human history, I have gleefully wasted on websites designed to waste my time, rather than invest in human relationships that are irreplaceable and invaluable.
This is, of course, easy to say coming from someone who has escaped the effects of this global shutdown relatively unscathed. There are medical professionals on the front line who have lost their lives fighting to keep others alive working 14 hour shifts, who are finally getting the recognition they deserve for their service. And all this whilst fighting an unfair fight, given the uphill struggle that they face having to expend their energy propping up a health service that has been decimated from the inside. The frustration emanating as a result of the cracks being uncovered embedded within a number of institutions will, above things, amount to serious questions being answered. It would be remiss to think that there is little chance of future viral infections sending countries into shutdown, so accountability and future-proofing measures need to be outlined to instil public confidence in those who are in power.
Something will have to give. Aside from the inevitable inquests into the government’s indecisiveness and regulation within Chinese wet markets, positive action can arise from the ashes. The environment has been one of the true victors from the screeching halt of major cities, with pictures from Venice showing the canals to be the clearer than they have ever been. Thunberg and the green community must take this opportunity to bang on the doors of those who wield power to forge a new economy that is not mutually exclusive; growth and sustainability.
Manageable working hours, healthier eating, regular exercise and enriching our knowledge are all things that have become hallmarks of this particular period of human history, but will these practices continue once normalcy returns? Employers should pay more mind to the demands of their workforce, and adjust their expectations accordingly. A number of companies have already adopted a 4-day working week, and there is a real opportunity to strip away the traditional working pattern of laborious hours and implement policies designed to improve the mental health and long-term productivity of every worker.
Will we begin to prioritise ourselves?
I’ve been keeping tabs on you ever since your name hit the news, wondering how you’ll recover from such a hit like that since you were the only ethnic person out of the trio that got exposed. Your Caucasian counterparts have names that are a dime a dozen and disappear amidst millions of results produced by a google search whereas yours is so memorable. Unfortunately, as we both know, for the wrong reasons. But I’m not here for that.
Before I express myself further, I’d like to be clear on one thing:
I don’t condone what you did and I think the punishment for the crime was fitting. Yet I disagree with how public the case became. Releasing the story itself to the news was fine as it opened a discussion on university culture and racism, however, I vehemently oppose the release of all the names of every student involved (including the person who exposed the group) to the public. That should not have been done. They should have kept your identities anonymous. I am only saying this because of your age and the impact something so serious can have on a young person mentally. People deserve second chances, especially when they are that young.
Despite what you did had its merits in the hall of sin, it is almost laughable in the face of the things I had seen when I was your age. We had a high school bully in our year who operated with a girl gang and they collectively tortured other girls in our class. One student retook the year at a different school, another dropped out. The latter’s mother came to school to watch out for her child because the day before, the girl was ruthlessly confronted and publicly lambasted. It happened again with another victim, a year later, the day before an exam. There was also a petty instance where this group returned the birthday invites in front of everyone to a less popular student. This group went after everyone like a bad rash. Ruining the educational experiences, the reputations, the mental health of so many classmates, in my opinion was comparatively worse than what happened on that stupid group chat of yours. Yours was maybe a year of dumbassery, theirs spanned several and genuinely ruined the whole experience of secondary school.
But they are forgiven. None of them had their lives destroyed for it, no one knows about it. That’s how it is for most people who do dumb things when they are young: their sins are washed away in anonymity and personal communication that was never recorded as evidence. Now in their twenties, those girls can assimilate in the world with everyone else who knows nothing about their past. It’s history. They were young then, they moved on from it. I’m sure they regret it and would not do it now- they most likely had the same thought process you did: it was cool back then. It was just banter, it was just a rebellious phase, it was just “whatever, man, it’s not that deep.” Although it was malice, it was not conscious malice. They all have good lives and went off to good universities. We collect our harsh lessons and painful truths from these experiences. We move on.
It’s been on my mind to reach out to you for almost a year. I am here to tell you that I respect you for owning up to your faults and dedicating your time to writing and reflecting on what you had done. I have read all your posts and you are a good writer. I tried searching up what the other boys have done since and I couldn’t find anything; it seems like you’re the only one who has openly embarked on a journey of self-evaluation. Regardless, I wish them evolution as well. Credit when credit’s due: the responsibility you have shouldered is a mature move and a heavy cross to burden. A quick fix would be to get a deed poll, change your name, shave your head and grow a beard and escape your past by moving to Canada. You’ve still stood by the name you made your mistakes under. That deserves a salute.
I’m here to tell you that you are not the sum of one mistake you made and I recognize that. There is no single moment in time worth defining your entire existence, even if it’s a positive one. I’m sure there are plenty of individuals out there who agree with me but I feel you need to hear it from someone at least: if you ever feel like giving in, please don’t. There are people out here who have done much worse and they’ve sailed on. You are young. You are dedicating time to learning and changing and that energy will eventually manifest as something positive, travel through the cosmos and return back to you. Please don’t lock yourself away in your room for the rest of your life feeling terrible about what happened. If you ever feel like what happened was some type of karma, know this: karma is not a punishment. It’s enlightenment. It awakens you to new perspectives from which you rebirth your identity and then ascend to a the next level where you receive a new set of karmic lessons. The path continues until your soul is cleansed to purity, after which you enter nirvana. Please don’t waste nights agonizing over what happened and writing to prove yourself again and again to the world that you’re not a monster. You’re not a monster. You were a teenager who said something thinking it was risque banter and was subsequently held accountable for it. You faced the punishment, which was fitting (despite the public exposure of your name being too harsh). If anyone judges you for what happened, their glass house is down the same postcode as yours and they just don’t know it yet.
I can see that you’re trying. It’s such a bittersweet thing to see. We have all had moments like you, AC. Just the other day I was trying to teach myself not to wake up in the morning and have my first thoughts be all the regrets I had- a lot of people live their life that way. I only have a modicum of an idea on how much it sucks, you are one strong person for deciding to pick yourself up from it and do good. You will turn this around and ten years to the date after that dreadful time in your life, I’m sure you will have achieved something.
I wish you all the best. Please continue writing. And don’t ever give up.
Love and light,
I don’t know where to begin other than by saying thank you for taking the time out of your day to say all of this, especially during the difficult global circumstances we find ourselves in at present. To say that your incredibly kind words haven’t caught me completely off guard would be a lie, given that these aren’t the sorts of comments that I am accustomed to reading. Ordinarily, the idea of someone keeping tabs on me would be slightly disconcerting given various public intrusions into my private life aside from the events, but your introspection and empathy has put me at ease.
You don’t know many times I have wished that I could erase it all and disappear into the security of insignificance as I was in before. I spent weeks and weeks and weeks frantically analysing how I could have been so stupid and ignorant and placid. I felt like a doormat and a sinner at the same time. My entire life disintegrating in the space of 24 hours was something that I felt I deserved, and became a source of genuine self-hate. Sitting here now, it seems very surreal, but the consequences are fresh and still remind me of how far I had fallen.
But as I realised through a very steep learning curve, we have to take responsibility for our actions and be accountable to our best selves, no matter how much it becomes unbearable to believe that this dishonourable version of you exists. The shame was what hit the hardest, both internally and for the community I had purported to defend and protect. The year where I lost myself into the indulges of what I valued to be important became the year where my worst self became cast in stone, forever to be publicly scrutinised.
Thank you for reading my writing. It’s been quite the Frankenstein but I am getting the hang of it slowly but surely! You’re right, it started off as a search for answers, but in the beginning, I was doing a disservice to myself. It began as a distraction from asking myself the real questions that I needed to grapple with. Truth is, I’ve historically been quite stubborn to self-evaluation, but it was causing me so much discomfort that I started to wean myself into trying to find deeper meaning. My commitment to my faith helped, but ultimately, it was futile to place my belief in a higher power if I didn’t even know what values I wanted to stand for myself. Over time, I have become more attuned to the kind of person I want to be, and have dedicated time to enacting it. I used to be all talk and never backed it up; now, I’m the opposite.
And believe me, running away was definitely tempting. Turns out that I’m pretty good at it. And it wasn’t until the umpteenth day of debilitating hopelessness that I decided that I couldn’t do it any longer. I wouldn’t do it any longer. Running away from your mistakes is simply extending the track and the distance from the finish line, and I desperately wanted to see a horizon.
I’m blessed to have the family and friends that I had at the time, because my usually concrete self-belief had fallen through the thin ice I was on. They gave me strength and, more importantly, they held me accountable for my actions too, as well as the next step. If anyone was going to grow and bounce back, it had to be me and they were counting on me to return as a virtuous man, and leave behind the egotistical, popularity-obsessed boy who had caused his own downfall. It seems slightly narcissistic in hindsight, but being put forward as a symbol of resurgence by those closest to me gave me a sense of drive that I never knew was possible. Sometimes, we need to be our own saviours and I was mentally ready to take the mantle. It’s been a testing 26 months with small triumphs and some setbacks, but overall, things have worked out for the best.
And today, I’m doing better, Leese. Steadily making progress one day at a time and focusing on what makes it all worth it. I have no ill-feeling towards it all, but I can also never shake it. It has become an integral part of my story, and that’s a good thing. I no longer spend days obsessing about how my life will irreversibly change or why I wasn’t mature or sensitive enough to doing the right thing earlier, but I don’t for one second reduce its significance in my mind. My ability to carry on my life IS my second chance, and I will dedicate it to being a positive force for change, as is the path that I have returned to after a slight deviation.
Thank you for your kind message once again, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours. It is nice to meet those who bring candles in the face of darkness.
Beautifully written . Well done
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