You are here
A safe space to vent
And I never wanted
anything from you
Except everything you had
And what was left after that too
—Dog Days are Over
Florence and the Machine
Two women got on the wrong side of social media this past week. One for being a human showing cruelty against animals and one for being an animal lover showing cruelty against humans. The first woman to raise people’s mad blood has been making the rounds for about two weeks now, her smiling face and festive yellow dress starring on the walls of many angry Trinidadians/Tobagonians as she stands on the soft shell of a leather-back turtle which has survived a long and treacherous journey through the world’s oceans. Many memes were made, including a rather crudely constructed one of the woman being trampled by an elephant. She’s been called many names that I guess make people feel better about themselves.
The second woman to get us vex we presume has a heart because she takes care of animals. But just like there are white gay men who hate black people, it’s possible for Nalini Dial to defend a rather barbarous position. Her judgment is her own and I’m sure all of us have passed judgment on somebody in an unfortunate situation. It’s the nature of human beings to act inhumanely.
What disturbs me is the swift and extreme condemnation that takes place within the safe anonymity of the Internet every time somebody does something ridiculous in Trini-dad. You can forward and share and wish the worst possible judgments to rain from the heavens on the heads of two people you’ve never met.
And feel a sense of righteousness that helps you get to sleep at night because you know you’d never do something like what those two women did. Well not with anybody watching, anyway. The problem with humanity is that shame only works if other people are looking. We only engage in some behaviours behind closed doors because we fear the judgment of those we judge equally as harshly.
The funny thing about social media is precisely the thing that makes it so cool also makes it terribly dangerous—the immediacy of it and the close proximity it puts us to creating the news and shaping agendas. It provides that supposedly safe space to vent your frustrations, to immediately respond to whatever the latest stimulus, to lash out and then go back to your regularly scheduled life without the things you see online motivating you to change your life or actions in the real world.
I fear however that none of the people who posted images of the woman being trampled by an elephant are making the choice to go and clean up a beach, or volunteer with one of the many organisations that patrol our North Coast beaches to offer some protection for our ancient giant visitors.
I fear that the same people burning fire on Nalini Dial for saying the most outrageously heartless things, act in outrageously heartless ways everyday that don’t make it to Facebook. Instead of anger, we really should feel shame, those of us who work in the media, those of us who are teachers, those of us who have a public service job, that there is still somebody in this country that thinks it’s okay to stand on a turtle’s back. That is not just a crisis of a lack of interest in environmental issues, that is a crisis of education.
If her actions motivate primary school teachers to ensure that they start to work on the impressionable young minds in their care to have a closer connection to their land rather than to the buildings of their schools and the tests they’re forced to take to prove they are bright, then maybe we are moving in the right direction.
Our love for Trinidad does not multiply in the face of these horrors. Or maybe it will. I don’t want to be on the side of the cynics who think that we are wasting our time. Like I’ve heard of primary schools encouraging their pupils to separate their garbage for the purpose of recycling. But at the end of the school day when the garbage trucks come, all the carefully separated garbage ends up in the landfill anyway.
It’s the classic case of giving the appearance of action when in fact there is no action going on at all. But at least it looks good. And if you post a picture condemning a woman for standing on a turtle, that somehow makes you a champion of the environment. The point is that we need more community workers, not more forwarders of pictures.
Everyone needs to pick up their garbage from the beaches. Everyone needs to stop drinking bottled water. It’s not about what one or two women do. It’s about how the rest of us respond. If we’re so righteous, then our actions need to reflect our righteousness. Not just in words.
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