I knew Nasma* throughout my childhood and adolescence. She was a well-mannered girl and most of the time used to keep silent, even in situations in which she was required to engage in some talk. We all thought this was perfectly normal.
Nasma wasn’t good at saying interesting things. She wasn’t funny. She wasn’t pretty. She didn’t have a good figure or own the latest brands. In fact, she was so big that people didn’t like sitting next to her. So, realizing this, she resorted to the weapon of silence. Silence was her sole solution to brave her social failures: not a bad one either, she realized, when at the beginning of each new school year, her classmates refused to share a desk with her.
Were they, and was Nasma right, to accept this? Or are we to blame? A society that shuns people because they don’t fit in with our view of normal?
Eventually, Nasma failed in her studies and remained as a “silent girl”. The shadow, who in being one, evaded any discussions that would upset or offend her. She simply wasn’t present. Now I am older, I understand. I do also wish that I could have understood the
reason for her silence when I was younger and could have been in a position to make a difference.
This story is important, because it shows that school can affect adolescence, one of the most significant periods of anyone’s life. School isn’t just about taking exams – it is about helping to shape a person. Pastoral care, in my view, should take a much more central role, with parents starting to be alerted much earlier, when something is really wrong. At the moment there are school care workers. They can stick on plasters and give out paracetamol,
but don’t seem to be able to recognize problems that can destroy someone’s future if they go unchecked.
In the case of Nasma, if there had been someone able to really engage with the school micro-society, she may not have been lost
to silence. Of course, parents also need to be vigilant; it doesn’t just stop at the school gates. Ultimately though, it is we as a society who need to learn to be more compassionate. There is a saying that a blind man could be clear-eyed inside himself, if it were not for those around him who extinguish the glimpse that lightens up his sight. Let us instead hold the light. If we, however, are the silent ones, let us recognize this story and ourselves become the light.
*Name has been changed