You’re walking down a street, and a guy TOTALLY bumps into you as if he didn’t even see you there. As you pick yourself up off the floor, all manner of invective comes out of your mouth, the most publishable of which goes:
“What is wrong with you?! Are you blind or something?”
“I’m so sorry,” he says, picking up a cane you hadn’t noticed earlier. “I couldn’t see you coming – yes, I am blind.”
At that point, your anger immediately dissipates, and from wanting revenge, now all you want to do is help the guy cross the road like he’d been trying to do in the first place.
Point being: You don’t always know what people are going through.
It’s so easy to hate on the athlete who doesn’t live up to expectations. From our distance, we can dismiss their efforts, mock their preparation, doubt their motivation.
But what if, for example, they’re going through a family situation we didn’t know about, but they choose not to hide behind it as an excuse?
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Simone Biles was the one athlete I wanted to watch these Olympics. But her Games ended prematurely as she withdrew from the gymnastics team and individual competitions for her physical and mental well-being. “We are people, at the end of the day,” she said.
Biles’ words echoed those of tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron a few days ago. Months earlier, she withdrew from the French Open, citing mental health concerns.
“There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes. Each of us as humans is going through something on some level,” she wrote in Time.com.
If we’re going to take mental health seriously, we seriously need to do something about all the venom and bile that is spewed over the Internet.
A different point of view should not be an acceptable reason to condemn another human being.
“There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes. Each of us as humans is going through something on some level”: Naomi Osaka
The founder of a large, local firm with an outsize social media presence told me one of the guiding principles to their content, which is widely shared in Singapore: We shouldn’t kick anyone when they’re down.
We don’t want to be that sort of brand; we don’t want to encourage that sort of conversation; we wouldn’t want to empower the next Internet bully.
I also think of the words of a commentator on a recent thread on social media on the recent River Valley High School situation, which had degenerated into an online shouting match (apologies for the lack of a link, but the thread has been deleted).
Said the man posting: “Why are the critics here who are supposedly mental health advocates behaving in such a toxic way?”
So here’s my big idea. The social media conversation – the hateful tenor, the bent towards scorn – will only get worse until we agree to put an end to it. So we need to agree to put an end to it!
Who’s “we”? You. Me. Us. Everybody. Individuals. Companies. Brands.
(Here, let me slap a few hashtags here to get started. Maybe something will stick. #EndTheHate #BeCoolSG #AKinderInternet #PlayNiceSingapore…)
Will everyone agree? I don’t know. Clearly there are many who enjoy kicking others when they’re down; taking offence and being offensive in return; making others feel small so we can feel big.
I’m worried about a generation who will grow up fearful of expressing themselves.
What does it mean to put an end to it?
It means trying to understand what a person might be going through, and learning to empathise.
It means not saying the first hurtful thing that comes to mind. And not liking the hurtful comments others offer.
It means not sacrificing someone’s esteem and identity – their mental health – at the altar of cruel humour.
It means not kicking someone when they’re down.
What happens if we don’t end the hate?
I’m worried about a generation who will grow up fearful of expressing themselves, because they know the mob lurks around every corner.
I’m concerned about people who don’t dare to have opinions, lest they clash with others.
I get sad thinking that cruel words, casually tossed into the social space, can have lasting, lifelong or even life-ending repercussions on others.
Let’s #EndTheHate. Start the healing. Nourish souls. Repair broken spirits. Lift up the downtrodden. Inspire champions.