I’m used to losing people I love. Whether it’s actual loss like the death of my brother at 17 or my mum at 77, or emotional loss like my mum’s slow development of Alzheimer’s or my learning disabled daughter going to residential school, I’m quite familiar with the concept.
Being a carer for twenty years also familiarised me with the notion of being a loser. Because when your needs and wishes are superseded by actual needs and advocacy for 3 other people, you have to adjust to your position of failed hopes because otherwise you fail people whose lives depend on you.
I’m 47 now so in the years that I stood back from ambition and desire and career and status, I was able to learn things about myself and about life that gave me clarity of viewpoint.
In short I learnt what mattered. I learnt that empathy is a gift, which comes naturally to some and one which definitely should be valued much more than it is. I feel it’s so lacking in our dealings with one another that it really should be taught in schools.
In recent weeks we’ve seen that the lack of empathy, which is so crucial to our humanity has entrenched itself on social networking sites. People write messages to one another, which are sometimes criminal like threats or are morally criminal, like bullying.
Either the lonely individual venting at high profile people from their safe place of anonymity or more worryingly people with a platform deciding to organise and orchestrate attacks on those people they deem to have transgressed.
It is those people who are the most worrying to me.
Andy Warhol said that in the future all of us would be famous for fifteen minutes. I’ve tried in the fifteen minutes I’ve had, spread over five years of online campaigning, to make sure my time counted.
I haven’t always succeeded and I haven’t always been polite but the horrors unfolding for many disabled people, whether hate crime in our streets or policy from our legislators has made me acutely aware that there are real lives at stake again. These lives have value to me.
So I’ve used my time to tell these stories, I’ve used my time to shout up.
What I’m seeing now is that these raised voices on social media, spreading out into actual media, are not shouting up but instead shouting at, their perceived targets.
The crimes their targets stand accused of are not crimes of actual transgression but of perceived transgression. Myths begun by bullying mobs are spreading like the norovirus they truly are and like the norovirus they are composed of bile and excrement. Clones with the same values further this perversion of truth and frustrated ambition; the mobs are now dominating all online debate and conversation with a reign of terror, which ensures that too many people are being silenced or hounded into submission.
Meanwhile racists, misogynists, homophobes, disablists and the religious right can stand back with a self-satisfied smile and watch as their work is being done for them. Because now those who would formerly have challenged such bigotry across social media, are removing themselves from these platforms, because the mobs are wrongly accusing them of the very things they fight against.
The mobs so assured of their own correctness, are simply ensuring that the only voices being heard are theirs and they are venomously attacking the wrong people.
In their dogged pursuit of this one objective they are failing everyone else. They want their voices to be heard but they fail to recognise the crucial flaw in their determination is that they are incapable of listening. Their message is one of denigrating others and as they vent their own agenda of personal ‘injustice’ they silence those who speak of actual injustice affecting millions of people.
There has never been a more crucial time to dance in the light and to broaden the light to those who are standing in the shadows but those occupying the social media stage currently seem to have forgotten why they claim to be there.
Women attacking other women, activists, attacking other activists and fracturing political agendas of selfhood, are demeaning the struggle so bravely fought for around the world.
Our artists, writers, storytellers, journalists, campaigners and musicians have a wealth of real stories to tell.
Yet the poverty of activism which now seems to dominate our media of “he said” “she said” of article and counter article, of sound bites and quotes and ‘who did what to whom’ is predicated on a “what about me” ideology and it’s slowly suffocating actual debate.
We need to recognise and grieve for this loss, as it's a huge debasement of the forum of vital debate.
Stand back, rethink and for the sake of us all, make your fifteen minutes count, make it mean something other than your own ego, or please hand the microphone to someone else.