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People are not words.

Reading Time approx: 3 minutes

We’re so quick to judge, aren’t we? Social media has encouraged a form of discourse where we take a person’s opinion on any given matter and decide that their entire existence is wrapped up in that one opinion, for us it defines them. This makes it easier for us to demonise and dismiss them and, for our trouble, we’ll get a pat on the back from our affirmation bubble. Quick, clean, and simple. Sadly though this prevents us from enjoying the one benefit of social media outside of keeping in touch with people. Meeting different people.

I don’t want to give the impression that I believe beneath everyone’s crusty exterior beats a heart of gold, far too often I’ve learned that most assuredly isn’t the case. But I do think we can be far too hasty in our decision to cast people aside because we disagree with them or don’t like their opinions. If you’ve got a few minutes to spare I’d like to share a story with you. It’s a LiveLeak story and it’s from – I think – around 2008 or thereabouts.

We had a new member join the site and he was from the Southern United States. He was abrupt, almost aggressive in his views and his views really were quite bigoted. He was almost stereotypical in his manner. Over time the message didn’t change too much but as people weren’t simply constantly slamming him he lowered his defences a little, his videos started to contain a little more humour, he was funny.

I don’t recall how I started talking to Chris but we did talk. He was raised in a part of the world where opinions were awfully similar, his family shared his views, and thinking outside of that box they all found themselves in was not actively encouraged to say the least. Chris had discovered, via LL, a world of people who were different. People who didn’t just categorise and box him in. Social media hadn’t quite the stranglehold on our discourse as it does now, people were – in my opinion – still more “forum users” than social media users.

A lot of time was spent¬† chatting with Chris. He was very intelligent, he was one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life (you would literally be in tears at his tales of “redneckery” and the like). He also had some serious problems with his mental health, ones which left him open to social issues.

In time he met more Muslim people, more Jewish people, more people he never really had much access to. Instead of monsters, he found humans. Some good, some shitty, some funny, some duller than a rainy Monday afternoon in a seaside guest house. You know, people.

Sadly I lost touch with Chris years ago, and I really wish I hadn’t. He was a deeply troubled young man with such a sharp mind on a good day. He was a moderator on LiveLeak for a year or two and he was, as I recall, obsessive about fairness. He still had some beliefs which wouldn’t be approved of by most but he never allowed them to influence him all that much. He was a good guy who just needed a chance. I miss him if I’m honest. I do hope he’s doing well. Imagine how much poorer I’d be overall if I’d simply decided he was nothing more than a racist?

Well, the moral here is so obvious I’m surprised it hasn’t clubbed you over the head. We need to fight cancel culture, we need to push for more freedom. Behind every opinion we don’t like there is a complex human being who reached their beliefs for many reasons, none of which can really be looked at in 280 characters or less. If we don’t listen to opposing views, if we don’t try to understand where they come from, then we will never truly solve anything. Simply demonising and silencing people hardens opinions, creates martyrs, and pushes people ever more to the extremes. This is not a good thing.

I’m not suggesting everyone needs a hug and affirmation of their inner beauty. There are still lots of terribly shitty people out there. But maybe we need to change our parameters just a little and allow just a little more time for people. At least long enough for them to prove they’re not worth the skin they’re wrapped in.


What do you think?

Written by Hayden Hewitt

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This is an important point which we have all had ample opportunity to learn in recent years. The single most divisive issue in the UK is still Brexit with the country still essentially polarised. I was passionately on the side of remain, and one thing that became increasingly and uncomfortably apparent to me was the entirely counterproductive attitude I saw among my peers. All that passion and compassion being squandered in a slanging match to the exclusion of any reasoned argument. What chance is there of progress, of persuasion or compromise if the conversation starts with us pointing and shouting “racist!”? Everything you say after that is shouting at the wind. You don’t persuade people by insulting them.

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