I’m not sure how much the awful event made the news around the world, but here in Canada there was a nationally discussed news story that went viral on social media. It involved a new and meaningless trend that started with young men at sports events and has, like a virus, even infected some women and children now. At these events the young men would interrupt female reporters on-air with a meaningless, unnecessarily cruel sexual comment/threat. Sometimes the remark is even chanted by groups.
There’s no way getting around that it’s sexual harassment and that it represents the underbelly of human behaviour. I’m not judgmental in the sense that I deem things as good or bad. But if we’re seeking value from our own life experience then the worst thing you can do is be meaningless. For someone to suffer for nothing to be gained is the worst deal in the universe. The fact that these guys made a deal that bad is an indication that they have not been taught to grow through self-examination and healthy critical thinking.
In this particular case a young female reporter is doing her story on the season opener for her local professional soccer (football) team. Several men in fan team jerseys stop to make the vulgar, meaningless comment/threat but this time she turns the tables (and the camera) on the men and she pressures them to explain themselves. Their explanations are pathetic to say the least and they only serve to get themselves into even deeper trouble.
How in this day in age they don’t make the connection that they are being filmed seems remarkable but they hand-feed the reporter a story that was absolutely certain to go viral. Indeed the men look like complete fools and it is difficult to muster any sympathy for them at all. But as is my natural habit, I took a moment to be those men. At that point sympathy still didn’t come, but some empathy did.
Most of us have heard the story of the woman who sent the quick admittedly racist tweet about not getting AIDS in Africa because she’s white. She says she was actually mocking white privilege and there’s a lot of reasons to believe her, but even if her racism was intended as satirical, you will be inclined to agree with her that it was one of the worst choices she’ll likely ever make. She lost her job. She was vilified on mainstream and social media. She lost most of her friends and she had to hide for her safety. And of course she’ll always be her.
Another woman who has a history of attracting attention to herself by finding things to be offended by, tweeted a photo of two men she’d overheard telling dirty jokes. You can not like dirty jokes but offenses we feel inside our heads are our problem not other people’s. If the two men wanted to talk to each other like that and she chose to listen in to a private conversation then any issues she has are now her responsibility. But that’s not the politically correct belief today. You’re supposed to not like anyone who lives to a standard you deem beneath yours. So since that’s the current cultural standard, she instead she took their photo and tweeted about them. The tweet wasn’t even very serious. A light reprimand. But one of the two men—a father of three—lost his very hard to replace job because of it. When that came out on social media a group just as ugly as the one that attacked the man was suddenly attacking the woman. She ended up losing her job as well and she was so concerned by threats she’d received that she felt compelled to get security for her house.
And just recently a man was in a mall. He had never taken a selfie and when he saw a Darth Vader cut-out he thought that it was the perfect time. A lady’s kids watched him while he took it. He explained he was going to send the picture to his teenage daughter because she’d always wanted him to take one. The kid’s mother—watching from a distance—entirely misread the situation and posted a photo of the man, identifying him as a creep that was talking to her kids. He had to go to the police for protection.
And you don’t need social media for this. I know tons of women who’ve been gossiped about by insecure men as though they have had kinky sex with someone when in fact they’ve never had sex at all. This violates the woman in a terrible way. You cannot unscramble a scrambled egg. Her life will be changed and it’s reprehensible. I also know lots of men who’ve been accused by an angry ex of violence they did not commit, and that’s dangerous because it muddies the water for the very serious cases of actual abuse that require attention. In the end the source of the information doesn’t matter. It’s our reaction to it that does the damage.
If it’s someone you actually know and the accusation is serious you obviously should look into it. Get the other person’s version of events and then proceed with an open mind. But when it’s strangers we’d better be careful about casting stones because you have to ask yourself: is there even one of us who couldn’t have this happen at least once or twice in our lives? Catch us on the wrong day, or after too much to drink or you’re too tired or grumpy? Everyone has said things they didn’t think were smart after-the-fact. But if we’re going to start punishing people with death threats and income losses then we would be wise to consider where we want that line to be.
Why did I feel empathy for the guy? Because if someone was recording me enough I’m sure they could find some moments where I wasn’t at my best. But also because some particularly cruel gossip lead me to be wrongfully attacked very seriously, I am somewhat aware of how that man’s life will change. Before I could even write this he’d lost his $106,000+ a year job. Worse is he’ll lose friends, and even more friends will insist that others not be his friends either. He’ll face vandalism, violence, he’ll get spit on, called names and it will be very hard to get a job. If he has a wife or girlfriend they’re likely to see serious problems develop in the relationship and situations like this can see people estranged from their kids and some even lead to suicide. In the case of the reporter-taunting troglodytes, that guy will have his life, his schedule will all change. His list of normal things to do will all have to change and that is just as traumatic for someone who’s done something stupid as it is for a refugee. You are in a new world that you have no familiarity with and as-yet no relevant coping skills. It can be quite terrifying.
I really despised what he said. I really thought it was terrible. But along with the reporter I found that price too high. A sincere public apology would have sufficed and been sincere. Because if that’s the price, then I would suggest we all look more closely at our own lives. Because you can be a regular church-going grandmother and I guarantee there will still be moments in your life that you would not want the world to see.
But now the world can see almost everything. So as Rabbi Julius Gordon suggests, we should employ love. Because “Love is not blind—it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.” The world doesn’t need more perfect behaviour because everyone has a different idea of what that is and we could argue about where that line should be forever. That’s what government is. Does that look wise or efficient to you? So since that’s effectively impossible I would suggest that we all just relax a bit. Because the flip side of acceptable behaviour is greater tolerance. And since that’s spiritually, emotionally and mentally good for you as well, it seems a much better response than revenge or vigilantism. If you really want to help in cases like this one, don’t attack the perpetrator with more unpleasant behaviour. But if you see a friend participating in meaningless, damaging action toward anyone or anything, then offer your influence. Steer them toward a more rewarding life. That’s just being a good friend.
In the social media debates that followed this event a good friend whose judgment I trust disagreed on the man losing his job. In considering his points I have reconsidered my opinion on this matter. While I don’t think we can start doing this en masse, in a case like this it does seem reasonable that the public would need some very strong and public examples to demonstrate that the public standard has changed and that if people want to work well with others then these are adjustments that should be made. I still feel sorry for the guy who’s going to be an example for millions, but life has its tragedies and we all get our share. At least by getting through it we grow.
The next time you hit share don’t just immediately want to, but pause to ask yourself if you should based on who you truly are. And do the same with gossip. If you’re going to share anything, tell good stories about people. Because there are way more of those anyway and that will paint a much more accurate picture of the world around us.
Now go have yourself an awesome nonjudgmental day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.