Sharing the hate

Look, I loathe killing for sport with a white hot passion. Loving killing is bizarre to me. I do eat meat, but I don’t revel in killing, and I can’t imagine doing so. Guns are abhorrent.

And yet, I am deeply uneasy about the hate storm that surrounds the killing of Cecil the lion. Not because I don’t believe that what the dentist did was foul and disgusting. I believe that with my whole heart. But I worry about these hate storms. They are so easily triggered on the net. We leap into them with such vigour. Whether it’s a horrible sexist comment by a scientist, a racist comment by a PR person, or a photo of a killing, we are really keen to stick the boot in to people who we believe have transgressed.

I can understand the temptation – and I have tweeted and facebooked myself about things I believe are wrong and abhorrent (I’m looking at YOU Tony Abbott). It feels good to serve up some righteous indignation from time to time. But a while ago I began a conscious effort to comment less on the bad stuff (“Dear motorist, the bike lane is for BIKES, not for cars who wish to undertake the traffic. You nearly undertook me!”) and more on the positive, because I was concerned that my online presence was beginning to tarnish the world. To be a drain on our collective psyche, rather than an upwards force.

And hate storms are not just a small tarnish, they are eating away at our collective character like the most toxic of corrosive substances. They whip us up into a frenzy of negativity, of hatred, and of anger, and they achieve… what? Will this online frenzy stop people hunting and killing? I doubt it. Will it, in fact, polarise the two camps even further into hate-fuelled, vitriol spitting opposing lines with nothing but contempt for each other? Quite possibly.

And in the end, all that negative energy has to come out somewhere. The more we focus on our rage, the angrier our every day behaviour becomes, the less tolerant we are, and the less inclined to look behind the headline and find out whether there is actually any depth to the story.

We have got so keen to leap into the hateful fray that we rarely pause to find out the full story, to listen to the opposing view, and to consider whether the headlines might be wrong. The media loves a good hate storm, and feeds on it with gleeful abandon. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine them firing one up just to beef up a slow news day. And once it’s going, and hate storm is impossible to stop. The fallout remains as a glowing, radioactive footprint that will haunt that person for the rest of their lives. And while some may seem to deserve it, many don’t, and we are neither judge nor jury, and rarely in possession of all of the facts.

Of course we need to continue to call our politicians to account, and fight injustice wherever it occurs, but hate storms don’t seem to be about that. They seem to me to be more lynch mob than force for change. By all means campaign for an end to hunting. But there’s rarely a positive outcome from a public lynching.

So next time you are tempted to join the feeding frenzy, why not post a question instead? Try to clarify the issues rather than nuking from orbit and asking questions never. Or better still, don’t feed it at all. Take a deep breath and focus on the positive. You’ll be happier for it, I promise.

PS Since I wrote this I’ve been seeing a lot of calls for “justice for Cecil”. It’s too late for justice for Cecil. But we can stop it happening again, by campaigning for change. Which is different to campaigning for vengeance.

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State of Emergency

I hate running late. I feel dreadful showing up later than I said I would, even if I am meeting someone who I know for sure will be half an hour late. I get super stressed about it. For years I built so much contingency time into every timetable that I would show up half an hour early for everything and had to carry a book with me to fill in all that wait time. Even if I am running to time and expecting to arrive precisely on time it stresses me out, because there’s no wiggle room. What if there’s a train cancellation? Or a traffic problem? Or I forget something and have to go back? I like to have plenty of time to spare to cover not just one of these contingencies, but all of them.

Something seems to have changed, though, over the last few years. Now I leave at the last possible moment. I still hate to run late, but I also don’t want to risk hanging around waiting. I want to do everything hit and run style. In and out before the dust settles. The ideal child pickup or drop off involves barely slowing down (kidding! I do stop, but I wish I didn’t have to!). The last thing I want is to waste time waiting. Which is odd, because busy teacher, mother, and researcher that I am, a little time to breathe should be a precious and treasured thing.

I could rationalise it away saying “of course I like time to breathe, but I want it on my terms, in my comfy chair in the sun” – which would sound all very plausible, until you take into account that I never build that breathing space into my day. Instead I build several days into each day, and spend time hurtling from one double booking to the next, constantly churning over in my head all of the things I need to remember before the next crisis hits.

There’s been quite a lot written about over-scheduling our children, but I don’t have time to over-schedule my kids. I’m too busy rushing to my next meeting (on my day off). We rarely seem to stop and consider the idea that we may be over-scheduling ourselves. It might not even be a case of over-scheduling. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “over-optimising”, and it’s rooted in the belief that we don’t have time. We don’t have time to waste. We have to be productive. We are too busy to waste time doing nothing.

In the first half of this year I stopped walking across to the local cafe for coffee while at work, because I felt I didn’t have the time. I stopped going to the staffroom at lunchtime because I always have students to see or meetings to run. My friends outside of work didn’t get a look in, and my friends at work and I became ships that pass at recess, shouting brief dopplering greetings as we fly by.

And guess what? I’m burning out. Melting down. Stretched beyond breaking point. And all because I’m regularly pushing everything to the limit, and limiting nothing.

So now I’m trying to build the slack back into my day. Leaving early for meetings and appointments, and staying off the smartphone when I get there early. Instead I take the time to breathe, look around me, maybe even chat to passers by. I’m riding to work when driving would save me 10 minutes, so that I get both exercise and breathing space. I’m still going to meetings on my days off, and helping students at lunchtime, but I’m also trying to schedule coffees and call friends. Some days don’t quite work out, but hey – I’m a work in progress. And I’m making some progress. On a good day. When I remember to breathe.

How do you carve out your own breathing space?

There’s no justice. There’s just us.

Death once famously said* to his apprentice: “There’s no justice. There’s just us.”

Granny Weatherwax had a similar position, when Tiffany Aching cried out “It shouldn’t be this way!” Her response was simple and to the point: “There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”

We human beings are very fond of the concept of justice. We are quick to say “it’s not fair” (which often means “I’m not getting what I want.”). We are eager to believe that our legal system actually dispenses justice, despite its manifest flaws.

And we still cherish the deep, although increasingly insupportable belief that a democratic government makes decisions based on facts and the good of the country as a whole, rather than on lobbying, donations, pressure from mining magnates and the country as a hole. We have the Minister for the Environment, who frequently makes decisions that put the environment at risk. We have the Minister for Education, who says we have a very particular responsibility for wealthy private schools – presumably believing that public schools are tougher and more able to fend for themselves. We have the Minister for Health who presides over deep cuts to our public health system. Yet we find it hard to name these ministers accurately and replace the “for” with “against”. It would explain so much. Minister Against the Environment. Minister Against Women. Minister Against Health.

Lately I keep coming back to Death’s quote. There’s no justice. There’s just us. We can’t rely on the government to govern in our best interests. We can’t rely on them to take decisive action on climate change. We can’t rely on them to fund research, to build up our health and education systems, to feed the hungry or protect the vulnerable. We can’t rely on them to be just, or fair, or even sensible.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can only rely on our politicians to seek power at all costs, and to misuse it once they have it.

And it’s easy to say there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s easy to complain about it, and believe we are powerless to act.

But we do have power. We have power at the ballot box and beyond. We have the power to vote for independents and parties that are not the big two, we have the power to STAND as independents, or as representatives of progressive parties whose policies are evidence based and in line with our own idea of justice. We have the power to speak out, to sign petitions, to attend rallies. To spell out the facts when we hear someone say climate change is rubbish. To explain reality when we hear someone say that refugees are queue jumpers. To stand up for our health system, and to rally for the education reforms we so badly need.

We have the power to tell our politicians that their behaviour is unacceptable. To make it clear that we do not accept this as an inevitable feature of our public officials, but as an unpalatable deviation from the ethical and moral government that we demand as our country’s right. Politicians are more poll driven now than ever before, so it’s up to us to drive the polls.

There is no fundamental balance that will pull our governments back into line. There is no moral compass on the floor of our parliamentary chambers. We are the government’s moral compass. There is no justice. There’s just us.

*Famous to Terry Pratchett readers. If it’s not famous to you, go read “Mort“. And then the rest of the Pratchett books. You’ll thank me later. :)