I don't know Anthony Milne. But I feel compelled to write about him to make a point about how we, as a society, tend to function, and how it adversely affects our children. Mr. Milne recently wrote a letter to the editor, which got printed in one of the daily newspapers, suggesting that George Bovell, who represented Trinidad and Tobago in swimming at the London Olympics and placed 7th in the final of the 50m freestyle, should retire. Now, before I set off another firestorm here, let me just be clear: I do not agree with Mr. Milne and I particularly did not appreciate the fact that he starts off by saying, "Kicking a man when he's down isn't nice" - and then proceeds to do exactly that. I am not one of those people who feels that by congratulating our athletes for their best effort, whether or not that happens to include a medal, is enouraging mediocrity. In fact, I think our whole approach to competition and sportsmanship is skewed, but that's another post.
Back to my point. Mr Milne's letter set off a tsunami of vitriolic comments, both on the newspaper's website and on Facebook, which were very personal and quite frankly, juvenile. Here's the thing: the man expressed his opinion. He has the right to do that once he is not libelous, obscene, threatening or somehow intolerant (e,g,: racist, sexist, etc.) This does not make him an idiot, a moron, "dotish" or otherwise. It means he has a different point of view from you. Deal with it constructively. Address issues. Hurling insults like children on a playground accomplishes nothing. Ever hear kids call one another "poo poo head" or some variation on the theme? They didn't invent it themselves, folks. They learnt it from us. The proof is all around them, from the classroom to Parliament: disagreement with the status quo equals being laughed at, insulted, ostracised. In a word, bullied.
And here comes the irony, right on cue: these same adults will be the most outraged if their child is at the receiving end of a bully's wrath. But these days, bullying has crossed the realm of the tangible to the virtual. Teenagers have Facebook accounts, some of them are on Twitter - and words can be just as harmful as sticks and stones. Still, we routinely defer to that mauvaise-langue when faced with the slightest bit of opposition. It's the easiest line of defence, it seems, requiring little thought and even less time investment. And worst of all, it generates no positive debate. Debate; constructive discussion - that's what brings improvement, fosters understanding and helps us consider things from a different point of view. And in a world that is continually getting smaller - even Trinidad and Tobago now has a "Diversity" Ministry - having the tools with which to respond to such varied perspectives is critical. Unless of course, you're perfectly happy with the tribal mentality.
In this article, which at the same time has nothing and everything to do with the online reaction to Anthony Milne's article, journalist Sunity Maharaj writes:
"In our impotence, we resort to the standard weapons of the disempowered: character assassination and personal humiliation. We boo, we spread rake, unable to access institutional tools for initiating change."
If we want our children to inherit a better society - as citizens and netizens - than the one we currently inhabit, we're going to have to make some serious changes ourselves.