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LOUD WHISPERS: The Death of Shame and Compassion

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Saturday, September 30th, 2017
15 comments

Recently, after the death of a good friend of mine had been announced, my attention was drawn to comments on one of the popular websites. Whilst there was some outpouring of sympathy, I was appalled at the remarks of people speculating on how my friend died, what/who could have been ‘responsible’ and so on.  My friend fought a long battle with breast cancer, and even though many around her knew, she was not one to put her business out there on social media. Every day there is something written about the pitfalls of using social media and its negative impact on societal values. This is a conversation taking place globally and is not unique to our own context.  Social media has spawned a lust for fame and glory that is frightening. People have been turned into either rabid vultures feasting on the misfortunes of others or reckless hedonists who missed out on doses of restraint on their way to earth.

There is a plane crash or road accident. A crowd of volunteers rush in to help, but a good percentage of them are recording the tragedy for circulation online. Their goal is not to record and hand over to authorities to assist with their investigation, they just want people to know they were there.  A group of schoolgirls are attacked by a bunch of boys. What do the onlookers do? Instead of chasing the wicked boys away they whip out their phones to record the molestation of the poor girls. Women are gang-raped and it is recorded for circulation. The list goes on and on. We used to take pride in our culture of community, sharing and compassion as Africans. I am not sure about this anymore.

When my husband and I were living in London, there was an elderly couple, Bill and Dolly, who lived in the flat below ours. We spoke to them every now and then, and even though Dolly did not like us much because we had too many visitors (our pro-democracy comrades) and made too much noise for their liking, we would knock on their door to check on them. One day we looked out of the window and saw a lot of cars parked in front of our building, including a black hearse. It turned out that Bill had passed away two days before and he was being buried that morning. We had not been informed. That was the day we took a firm decision that our days in the UK had to be numbered. This was alien to all we knew and held dear. It was unthinkable to us as Nigerians that someone who lived in the flat downstairs could have been ill in the hospital for a week, pass away, and was being buried and we had no idea.

I am not sure I hold the same sentiments. People of all ages have now become something else, thanks to social media. There are so many advantages social media has to offer and it has contributed significantly to the promotion of self-expression, good governance, entrepreneurship, accountability and advocacy for social justice. Yet we need to keep our eye on that space because a battle is being fought there right now for our minds and souls. With the anonymity that a cellphone or keyboard can provide, human beings have become trolls who shame other people for their choices, pass judgement, spread lies, ruin reputations and rain fire and brimstone on the heads of people they do not like. There seems to be a self-destruct button people keep pressing. People post details of their private undertakings such as going on holiday, they go shopping and display designer labels, show off their closets, flash wads of cash and share information on their sexual activities. With all these bizarre revelations comes an avalanche of responses ranging from the positive to the dangerously negative. Granted most of the users and consumers of social media channels are young people, but there is an increasing number of older people who use these channels and the behaviour of some of them is no different from that of their errant children. Many older people now use WhatsApp which is very accessible. Unfortunately it is now used to spread false news, propaganda and all kinds of silly trivia. A lot of adults are on Facebook and they post messages that even their teenage children should not be posting. Since when did our brains stop communicating with our fingers? Age is not the equivalent of wisdom.

In all the unpleasantness of these channels, one of the things that concerns me the most is the fact that we have people who need help, are crying out for attention but are looking for it in all the wrong places. A few days ago I came across the story of a young man who has been married for six years, and he caught his wife having an affair. This was revealed to him through her exchanges on WhatsApp with her lover, their conversations were so lurid and explicit it is a miracle that no one is dead right now because of this. The husband then took his problems to a ‘celebrity’ online therapist who proceeded to share the information with all and sundry. Perhaps people use these channels because they are guaranteed anonymity? Or they feel the judgement of strangers is better than that of close family and friends? It is terrible if someone close to us is suffering and feels compelled to take to social media to feel better. Does this mean we are failing when it comes to showing compassion? Or are we too busy to support people around us?

In Yoruba, the word ‘Shame’ is called ‘Itiju’. Itiju is meant to guide appropriate behaviour, relationships with the community, and foster a sense of decorum. Granted, the term is value laden and can quickly lead to passing judgement on others, but it is meant to serve as a roadmap for decent human behaviour, regardless of gender, status or class. When reality TV shows in the USA of the lowest common denominator kind such as Jerry Springer started airing in the 1990s, my mother who is a great TV buff would ask, ‘Don’t these people have any shame?’. It was easy to poke fun at those people back then, and consider ourselves to be superior to them because we were brought up to have ‘Itiju’.

Consenting adults can do whatever they like in private. You want to have an affair with a married man? Go ahead. You want a sugar mummy? It is your right to choose. You like recording yourself while you have sex? Enjoy. You like posing in your birthday suit? Good for you. You want bigger breasts and a bigger backside? Get a good surgeon. Why do you need an audience for any of these adventures? We are slowly evolving into a society that has no shame and no compassion. A people incapable of having meaningful relationships offline, and uplifting conversations online. Today, the entire life-span of a marriage is recorded online. The dating, fights, reconciliations, proposal, pre-wedding shoot, expensive engagement party at home and exotic wedding abroad, the drama with the ‘side chick’, the implosion with the ‘baby mama’ and the divorce. There is little room for sympathy or empathy, and all the stages come complete with a running commentary from total strangers speculating and taking sides. Another source of concern is the amount of venom and scorn women pour on other women. There are also those who, from what they post, quite clearly have a range of mental health challenges, and you fear for their safety and those around them. Where are the parents? friends? teachers? mentors? properly trained therapists? spiritual counsellors? I am sure they are there, but their voices are being drowned out by the powerful allure of telling a story to millions of strangers to seek approval, attention or sympathy.

This will not end anytime soon. All we can do is try and be there for those we care about and provide a suitable alternative to the very unhealthy outlets that are cropping up online. As for those without ‘Itiju’, who are invested in shock as a selling point, anyone has a right to seek an audience, it is a legitimate choice. It also comes with real consequences further down the line. It is not a threat, it is life. Have a great week.

 

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Responses

  1. My sister…speak! you tell it like it is. You Rock all day!!
    We have to have the courage to call this thing out where ever and whenever we see it. It is a cancer in itself. There are so many words to describe what we are talking about. Lies, fake news (although some who scream fake news are the biggest liars themselves eg Trump!), lack of moral compass, lack of empathy, lack of humanity, etc. The point is that much as we have the benefit and blessings of the greatness of the internet and the amazing wonder it can have bringing people together; sadly it does have an evil and dark side that too many are being drawn to. No one person can end this malaise that is spreading, however, we can all play whatever part we can in screaming against it with our Loud Whispers, Making it better in any way we can.

  2. This is exactly in lieu with my thoughts lately. People seems to be so desperate for attention these days that they’ll post anything on social media, regardless of how private or sensitive it is, and the comments too are endless. I think sanity in this age and time should involve knowing what and how to post and comment on these platforms before we lose all our values to modernity

  3. My wife must see this. This is bespoke! I read it and sighed deeply. May God help us in this social media age of ours where everything and anything is online.

  4. Thank you for bringing this up ma’am. It is always good to realize that despite all the allure of civilization, there are some African values that’ll always remain golden. Of course self expression is good but there should be a line, a consciousness between what is shameful and what is noble. I hope eventually people will learn, because even anonymity of social media is not always guaranteed.

  5. It is pathetic. Even when people are eating they post it so you can know what they eating and how well God has blessed them. The one I detest most is showing off a new baby on social media. It’s annoying. I am happy to see that I am not alone in this privacy life of mine. You owe noone anything so get keep yourself

  6. Hmphhh. Thank you for being a voice ma’am. The “ridonculousness” of our time has beat my expectation by far. People now seek approval on social media, live fake lives, destroy themselves..all in a bid to do what? I don’t understand. Thank you, once again, Ma

  7. Reminds of a poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming.”
    It is apalling that even the “mature” ones, or those we expect to act differently, do the same thing. Indeed, age is not the equivalent of wisdom.

  8. I don’t think I have any comment on these than to use the same social platform to show people these writeup so that they can know where they are missing it. For some people that itiju is far from them. Let me say some don’t know the consequence of what they do by posting their lives on social medial. They also need this piece.

  9. One thing i can gladly applaud Abovewhispers for is the content of the articles. It just keeps you coming back because it shows great positives of social media. I, personally don’t pay attention to stories i don’t benefit from and unhealthy pictures and videos circulating on social medias. Some broadcasts are simply annoying, some posts are irritating and uncalled for. Like you rightly said, no shame (itiju) whatsoever. I wonder where the world is going to.
    This has been my silent rant for a long time.

  10. Rightly said ma’am, even the older ones are culprits. No shame, no morals and no compassion. The essence of life i think is diminishing.

  11. Social media has really jeopardized alot of relationships, in that people no longer seek advice from those who are supposed to be their confidant, they prefer talking to the whole world. What an ituju!

  12. This write up is very insightful I must confess, Weldon ma’am.The issue of adults behaving like bairns is the most sardonic one, some old men have to be tammed because they don’t respect their old age. Why would an old man old enough to be my father’s mate send me his naked pics? That is perversiveness I must confess. Social media is not meant for all those, rather it’s supposed to provide us with good info that is geared towards making everyone in the nation a better person.

  13. I saw a video of a man who mistakingly fell into a tiger’s den some few months back and I wept. If I had what it takes to put the management of that zoo behind bars I would have gladly done that.The man was there for more than 15mins before the tiger started devouring him like an animal, some wicked people were there snapping and recording the whole bunkum. What a wicked world we live in?

  14. Hmmmmm…. After readinng this post, all I just did is to sigh deeply… Social media has done more harm than good lately. Even children of 7,8 years now make use of social media and the rate of immorality has increased, thanks to social media.
    Ma, I totally agree with all you said in this post. But I pray God help us to make use of what we have the right way…..

  15. I wonder why some people bring their private lives into social media. For example, a guy or girl who is single changes his or her relationship status once they get a partner. It is unfortunate that social media has been abused.
    In everything we do, we need to apply wisdom and I strongly agree that age has absolutely nothing to do with age. A preacher said, “The age of Methuselah has nothing to do with the wisdom of Solomon.”

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