Honi soit qui mal y pense

Honi soit qui mal y pense

Nothing especially original in this observation but social media, as well as giving the power to share and communicate, seems to have ratcheted up people's propensity to take offence. Often where absolutely no offence is intended...

came across what I thought was a lovely cartoon marking the passing of Stephen Hawking. It showed the late astronomer, cosmologist and scientist leaving behind his earthbound presence, depicted in a kind of illustrative shorthand by his wheelchair, and stepping into the cosmos. I shared it on my personal Facebook page and said, simply, "Lovely". A number of friends 'liked' it and that, as they say, was that.

Or so I thought...

© Mitchell Toy

A friend then commented, saying: "I don't like the 'now he's free of his disability' stuff around SH. I don't think he'd have liked this depiction either, being such a champion of disability rights. Not to mention the fact that he was an atheist."

I was a little taken aback but replied: "I don't think this is religious? Just a pic of him becoming part of his beloved 'cosmos' (matter changing rather than anything spiritual – no 'representation here of 'pearly gates' or a bearded, twinkly chap).

"Certainly don't see this as any dis of disability! More emphasising his essence, rather than the physical entity that people envisage, and tying it in with cosmology.

"So in a nutshell I disagree, and think, actually, he would have rather liked this."

My friend replied: "Yes, fair enough, not religious. But I think the image of him turning his back on the wheelchair is very strong here, and so for me, it doesn't hit the right note. Agree to disagree"

Me: "Happy to disagree! For me, I see it not so much as turning his back on his wheelchair as shuffling off his mortal coil and leaving his earthbound presence to become part of the cosmos. Each viewer brings something of themself to what is being viewed, I guess"

And, again, I thought that was that and gave it no further thought...

Then today, my friend posted a link to a piece on Huffington Post, (not terribly well) written by a London-based copywriter in which he cited this image as an example of able-ist prejudice.

In it, the writer said: "I can assure you, without an atom of doubt, that the people who generate and retweet these pictures are themselves able-bodied."

So it seemed that I was, unwittingly, acting in a prejudiced manner. 

(For the record, I don't think I was.)

I was, however, heartened to see a response from someone who is himself disabled, the wonderfully named Barrington House. He said: "I am a wheelchair user, you do not speak for me. Your headline 'is extremely offensive' is NOT true, it may be for some, but not for all, you are NOT stating a fact, you are stating your opinion. I have a beard , but I do not speak on behalf of everyone who has a beard, I wear hearing aids, I do not speak on behalf of everyone who wears hearing aids, I wear spectacles, you know the rest."

As an aside, I said to my friend: "I do take on board the above comments. But if the cartoon had been of Tony Benn and showed him as the young Tony walking off arm-in-arm with his beloved Caroline, no one would say it was ageist, would they? Or is that a false syllogism?"

Thankfully, we agreed to differ.

But the point is, this is a friend whom I admire and respect. This kind of back-and-forth ding-dong would never have happened over a coffee or in a pub.

What is it about typing messages that makes people more prone to anger, taking offence and being all to ready to adopt confrontational stances when, in fact, we possibly are closer to agreement than dissent?

After all, few things are really wholly black or wholly white.

Just various shades of grey...

And both in this instance and again today when I was having a heated discussion online with my local MP Stella Creasy, they sent me a private message to say, no offence intended and let's meet up for a drink or a coffee 'IRL', as I believe young people are given to say. BRB. POS an' all that...

© Eugene Costello 2018