It’s no news that the internet was the game-changer that democratised access to information, and more than that, the unbridled ability to share opinions. We did not have that before. You had to be invited onto a platform or actively seek one to air your views if you were intent on getting heard or read. All that is firmly in the past. Now, with your ‘obscure’ Facebook or Instagram account, you have the power to ruffle feathers and make those who matter pay attention to you. If you prove to be maverick enough, you’ll soon court attention and subsequently or consequently become a social media celebrity.
However, with this unfettered freedom of speech and commentary has come the attendant and worrisome jostle for ‘savagery supremacy’. These days, the most vocal commenters are the least knowledgeable about the things they speak of. There’s little restraint to understand context, and as long as you can string a few words of English together, you are qualified to make outlandish pronouncements.
It evokes a mixture of fascination and irritation.
I have always thought that one of the signs of a mature mind is the ability to be circumspect with words. You are livid and have earned the right to tell someone off, yet, in your mind’s eye, you can grasp the bigger picture – the one that is quick to tell you ‘this will not end well,’ and so despite your umbrage, you take a deep breath and choose to say nothing.
That’s all but gone these days.
The political season has worsened the situation. We are seeing intolerance rear its head again. Opinions are viewed from the prism of politics. Criticise the glaring insecurity that is harvesting the lives of the best of us, and you are tagged an enemy of the state. The recent heartwrenching case of Chinelo Megafu is a sad case in point. Folks were quick to tongue-lash as yet another youngin who was out to chase clout rather than give the benefit of the doubt as to the veracity of her claims.
The result: a young, promising doctor died ignominiously. And whether they admit it or not, those who called out her call for prayers as a lie will have their conscience to contend with for a long time.
Exercising restraint with words or action is not the easiest thing to do. However, if many of us strived to adopt it, it would save us a lot of trouble.
Imagine if Will Smith had vocalised his reservation about Chris Rocks’ remarks about his wife during his acceptance speech as “Best Actor” rather than tow the path of violence at a high profile event like the Oscars. There’s little doubt he would have earned far more respect than he did with his actions and subsequent screaming of expletives at a comedian who probably meant no harm.
This brings me to the disturbing number of people who support physical abuse as a response to verbal abuse. In the two recent cases featuring our own Bianca Ojukwu, and international star, Will Smith as the perpetrators, not a few folks have supported their violent reaction to verbal abuse, stating that they were goaded into their uncommon outburst. This line of thought appears to be valid until one realises they are indirectly justifying cases of domestic violence where men pummel their wives for insulting them and other cases of fisticuffs triggered by a garrulous party.
We cannot choose to be selective about violence on the premise of who the perpetrator is. Doesn’t matter if they are famous, beautiful or admired by many, If we agree that assault is wrong when one has not been assaulted first, then we should be consistent with our stance. It’s how social codes of conduct can be maintained.
Every time I have succeeded in holding back whenever I have felt disrespected or maligned, I have considered it a win because it is not the easiest thing to do.
Nevertheless, the trajectory of events the world over points to one conclusion: people are growing more intolerant, whether this is a result of increasing life pressures or evolution in human behaviour is a topic for another day.
In the meantime, you may want to weigh the possible impact of your words before spewing them. It’s the sensible thing to do.