As I type this, my body sighs from the exhaustion of a day spent by my daughter’s bedside. She’s been suffering from a severe attack of indigestion and it’s taken its toll on her.
Throwing up anything solid or liquid that enters her system, she’s reduced to a shell of her usual smiling self. Last night, my heart filled with compassion as I watched her tiny body shivering from the weakness that the pain had left behind.
A low-grade fever made her groggy and unwilling to converse so we merely hugged one another and I said a prayer, hoping that she would get over this soon.
And this comes easily, almost naturally for most parents: this need to reach out, offer solace, provide comfort and succour in some form. Being compasstionate in person is much easier since we can see the person, touch her, engulf her in the magical embrace that drives pain away.
The same compassion, I find, is something we need to seek out online because it exists in mere pockets here and there.
A recent proposal to include books like Harry Potter, Tintin and Asterix in the ICSE syllabus from 2017 has been met with (mostly) delight from fans of the books around the world. An article on the subject was carried in a leading newspaper where a famous Indian actor, Shilpa Shetty, was quoted as saying that she believed that it was a good move.
As a part of her quote, she allegedly lauded ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, saying it could be included in the curriculum as it may help children be compassionate towards animals.
This gaffe was taken up by Twitter and Facebook and as expected, people had a field day with it. Out came the pitchforks and the angst that a person had found Orwell to be a children’s author. A hash tag was created for the sole purpose of giving alternative, dumbed-down interpretations of book titles.
Essentially, what they did was judge a book by its cover. Literally and metaphorically. Twitter erupted in laughs, sarcasm, barbs and more. I leave the rest to your imagination.
I watched the drama unfold on social media. I saw people sharing views and counter views on a person’s limited understanding of books. I found a handful of people pause and actually say that perhaps:
A) She didn’t say what she supposedly did.
B) There may have been a mistake (deliberate/otherwise) on the part of the media house that printed the ‘review.’
But, that is what I wish everyone had done, not merely a handful who paused to say, ‘Maybe there’s more to this story.’
Imagine a child or a teen waking up to the realisation that their knowledge or lack of it was being belittled on a public stage. Picture to yourself going up to perform, nervousness overcoming you and then the entire audience bursts into laughter because you forgot the words or fumbled the lines. Confused, upset and humiliated, a child loses confidence and stays away from performing for a long time again.
Now, translate that image to social media and an adult. How is it any different? Why is this not cyberbullying or trolling?
If the hash tag had been something different, say, just ‘literal’ book reviews, it may have gone down better with me. But, to drag a person down for her lack of sufficient knowledge or to make her squirm by saying ‘You’re such a loser’ is akin to playground bullying and let’s not call it anything else.
Compassion is necessary as we navigate the choppy waters of social media. We need one another, let’s not forget that. In our aim to be part of the herd,let’s not get carried away and use a hash tag or scorn somebody for the fleeting pleasure that it gives us.
Your twenty seconds of joy can cause another a lifetime of pain.
*Update: From an article in DNA: “Her agency then gave a clarification saying that it was their fault as they relied on Google search to know about books on caring for animals and farming! The blame game resulted in one hapless PR executive losing the job.”
Full article here: Shilpa Shetty trolled, PR executive loses job.