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Information Radiation: The Half-Life Of Online Hate Speech


There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.”  ― Philip K. Dick

For 28 years, I was a journalist.

I used words as tools; sometimes as a megaphone, sometimes as a balm, all too often as an axe.

I was cogent and clever and current and cutting and conceited.

And ultimately careless.

Life has since taught me that one can’t be too careful with words.

Of all the weapons of destruction that man could invent, the most terrible-and the most powerful-was the word. Daggers and spears left traces of blood; arrows could be seen at a distance. Poisons were detected in the end and avoided. But the word managed to destroy without leaving clues.”

 Paulo Coelho

The person who wrote about sticks and stones breaking bones but words not hurting really didn’t understand the heart.

Or human beings.

As much as we pretend – as much as the world tells us – that we are intellectual beings who happen to have emotions, I believe it’s the other way around.

We are emotional, spiritual beings that happen to have intellect.

This is not to deny or decry the astounding gift, the incredible capacity, of our brains.

It is merely recognition that, in most ways, our hearts rule – often overrule – our heads.

Indeed, there’s a Native American proverb; “Reason is the white man’s curse.”

This, again, is not meant as a dismissal of the power of intellect.

It is a salutary lesson that some things – important things – must be felt; some answers simply don’t come with reason.

I shall tell you what I believe. I believe God is a librarian. I believe that literature is holy. It is that best part of our souls that we break off and give each other, and God has a special dispensation for it, angels to guard its making and its preservation.”  ― Sarah Smith

Late in my journalistic career I was a foreign correspondent and Bureau Chief.

I saw and experienced things I wish I had not.

Decades later, I cannot un-see or un-feel those terrible events.

So the power of my words and the intensity of what I experienced are forever fused together.

And that’s my point today.

In the age of the internet, we have the power to do what I call “impulse boo” – the social media equivalent of the impulse buy.

We can reply sharply – and I mean in terms of time and tone – to virtually anything that crosses our screens on social media.

And we do.

And often we shouldn’t.

Or we should at least wait and choose our words more carefully.

For in the internet age, those words, those images – of ourselves and others – will be there for decades, if not forever.

In sheer pragmatic terms, they are the first port of call for modern bosses; the people who might – or might not – consider employing us.

Our online “footprint” is the first thing savvy employers check these days.

But more importantly, they are a portrait of ourselves, to ourselves, that we may not like.

They are a mirror to our often ugly, unfiltered inner thoughts.

And what we said so carelessly might devastate another.

Words never fade away but echo on for eternity. Let your echo ring sweet.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich

I write this at the end of a terrible week.

Thousands of people are dead or endangered following a massive earthquake in Nepal, two young men have been executed in Indonesia, race riots are tearing apart US communities and a thousand other atrocities darken the globe.

Two of my friends have lost loved ones.

In the midst of life we are always in death.

But it reminded me that what we say to – and about – each other never mattered more.

Of all the thousands of words I’ve read about this awful week none has touched me more than those of a friend and fellow performer, Ruby Alice;

Let’s all love that little bit harder today.”


In Praise Of Friends

JG-Bid_136 I have friends who are beyond price. Real. True. Friends. Some I catch up with regularly. Some I rarely see. Some I seem only ever to connect with online. But God bless ’em, every single one of them, because I am so frequently such an inadequate friend in return. All too often I greet warmth and generosity with an awkwardness that must feel awfully like indifference. Many times my silence is all I have to give. So this is both a short essay in praise of friends and an apology.

“A friend in need is a pest” — Groucho Marx

I love Groucho and I know he was, – as always it seems about serious things – joking. But he was wrong about this. Knowing that hasn’t stopped me hiding behind this quip. I have treated friends in cavalier fashion for no better reason than their needs were “inconvenient.” Like me – and I make no other comparisons; Groucho was a genius – he was difficult. He was, despite his very public job, notoriously private. He was generous to a fault…. until he wasn’t. He was opinionated, yet fragile, smart as a whip, yet dumb as a box of rocks. He could be a dreadful friend and a trying partner. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Ad Infinitum.

“God gave you your family. Thank God you can choose your friends.”

— Oscar Wilde

I love Oscar too. But again – even though I know it was one of his trademark bittersweet epigrams – this misses the mark in my experience. For the most part, my family have lifted me up, just as much as my friends. They’ve so often deserved better from me. I recognize the truth of what Oscar says about choice, though. There’s something wonderful about people who’ve chosen to be in your life.

“I thought I was flying like a bird So far above my sorrow But when I looked down I was standing on my knees Now I need someone to help me Someone to help me please ”  

— Jackson Browne

I can’t possibly express the number and breadth of gifts I owe to my friends; this is a blog, after all, not War And Peace. And I’d be sure to miss someone – or something – that helped shape my life. But I can tell you about a week, one single incredible week, that prompted me to write this. During just the past seven days, I have:

  • Met with a friend who lives impossibly far away and yet has doggedly, lovingly, preserved our emotional connection. I cried when we parted.
  • Had breakfast with a friend who – despite profound difficulties in her own life –  cared only about making mine better. She has never failed to do so.
  • Sat down with a friend who shared her personal story, painful though it was,  because she believed it would help me. Experience, offered  selflessly, can be among the greatest gifts.
  • Received a heartfelt message from a friend who reached out with medical help. We share a challenging disease. But it must be said he has suffered far more severely. He just wanted to help.
  • And on and on it went. And goes on.

To all my friends. Thank you.

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