In one of my favourite scenes from the classic ’90s movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, Bill and Ted are placed in an uncomfortable position when asked to offer some words of wisdom to their adoring followers. The advice they come up with is indeed sage, they say – “Be excellent to each other!”
Following recent prominent stories in the media, it seems increasingly apparent that our society needs the wisdom of Bill and Ted. In the past week we have seen the murderous scourge of domestic violence and partner abuse once again as front-page news and we have seen the bullying of a young indigenous boy entering social media feeds.
The responses to these have shown both the best and the worst of humanity. There has been an outpouring of grief and empathy and wonderful actions have been undertaken to raise up those who have suffered. The vision of young bullying victim, Qaden Bayles, leading the NRL’s Indigenous All Stars out on to the oval for their charity match was truly inspiring.
But alongside these approaches has been another type of response that we have come to expect, but should never come to accept. On social media there has been an active and false campaign to undermine Qaden Bayles and to frame the murders of Hannah, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey Clarke as somehow a result of a deterioration of ‘men’s rights.’ While the perversity of both these approaches should be apparent, and have been rightly exposed and condemned, they highlight the downside of the democratisation of information that has flourished under social media platforms.
It seems that in a world where we can determine what news we consume and can also choose who we hear from, there is a tendency to utilise any fact scenario as incontrovertible proof to confirm our deeply entrenched ideology or positions. This is so dangerous and is apparent across all sections of the political spectrum.
We have grown accustomed to the “weaponisation” of language and images in bitter “take downs” or “gotcha moments” of those who do not share our views. This occurs in Parliament House, in the comments sections of news sites and on a variety of media and social media platforms.
Furthermore, we have seen attacks on the media to deliberately delegitimise news sources and hence news that does not accord with one’s world view.
What is lost in this approach is the opportunity to grow from listening to others, the ability to respect a diversity of thought and the capacity to “agree to disagree” while maintaining our humanity and our kindness.
I need to be clear that when I speak of respecting alternate views I do not think we should give a platform to those who manipulate media to deliberately perpetuate falsehoods. This week an article in The Guardian exposed the fact that 25% of climate change denialism published on Twitter is produced by autonomous bots. In this case a fraud is being perpetuated to deliberately manipulate the medium to give the pretence of a lack of consensus.
However, while we must still stand up in the face of vile statements or attitudes or on issues which cause permanent damage to individuals or groups we need to be careful not to become that which we oppose in the process of opposing it. We must not accept a response to bullying that perpetuates the further bullying of victims, nor should we find ourselves bullying the bully.
The contemporary phenomenon of forming camps and ‘piling on’ to those on the outside is anti-intellectual, inhibits our learning and provides an environment which normalises unacceptable values.
The plot of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” sees the protagonists use a time machine to capture various historical figures to assist them to pass their history presentation. One of these figures is Abraham Lincoln who once wisely said: “Those who look for the bad in people will surely find it.” I am certain that the inverse is also true.