SIx months ago, video of a conflictual meeting of the Handforth parish council propelled its attendees, myself included, into the limelight. I’ve been on a great ride ever since and while I have mostly enjoyed it, I can’t pretend that it hasn’t been free from bumps or bruises. I have tried to learn as much as I can about the rough and the smooth, the peaks and the valleys, and I felt this was an opportune time to share some of those lessons.
First, the good. I have met amazing people, from the exotic world of show business to the more familiar local government environment. Making so many new friends in a short period of time has made me a connoisseur of long-lasting first impressions and I can confidently say that it is the kindness, generosity and warmth of people, not their individual abilities or accomplishments, that it has stuck with me. These qualities are memorable because they are powerful. We are social creatures and it is through cooperation, collaboration and compassion that we achieve great things.
But while I’ve learned a lot about the kindness and love of strangers, I’ve also become the unwitting target of trolls and bullies. I must emphasize that the interactions I have with people online are overwhelmingly positive, friendly and constructive, but abuse is, albeit infrequent, difficult to ignore and impossible to forget. Much of it is sexist in nature – men who dislike the idea that, as a certain parish councilor might have put it, I “have the authority” to speak out on particular issues or share my views. On numerous occasions I have been told to shut up, shut up or get lost. People sometimes comment on my appearance (as if it’s relevant) or remind me that fame can be fleeting (as if I don’t know it). An individual, who will have to remain anonymous, has contacted me on a regular basis to tell me that he has seen through my facade the calculating, toxic and manipulative individual who is supposedly underneath.
As I write this, I acknowledge that the abuse I have received has not been as relentless or intimidating as that experienced by many women in the public eye, especially women of color. But it has served as a healthy reminder that we must relentlessly uphold the core values of compassion, inclusion, and cooperation – while trolls may be few, their voices are strong and uncompromising. We must not allow this to become normal.
Which brings me to my recommendations for revitalizing the soul of our body politic.
First, we have to address online abuse. The online security bill that will soon advance in parliament could become a landmark piece of legislation, a first in the world – when addressing this scourge. To be effective, you need to significantly reduce the number and scope of anonymous social media accounts (the source of most of the misinformation and hate online) and enforce a new duty of care on social networking sites towards their users. These platforms have for too long benefited from a laissez-faire system of governance that has allowed misinformation and abuse to spread with impunity. The government needs to catch up.
Second, we must substantially improve the standards of behavior expected of local and national politicians. Two quick and effective changes could help make this happen. It should become the norm – executed through legal action if necessary – local councilors resign or be removed from their position for a specified period if it is determined that they have violated the code of conduct of their authority. There is no such provision and, as i have documented beforeThis means that councilors found guilty of racism, sexism or homophobia can continue in their role. This unconscionable practice legitimizes bad behavior, low standards, and poor governance. If we want to attract a broader demographic to run for election, we must redouble our efforts to make the environment they enter as safe as possible.
Also, I would like a law to be introduced to address lying in politics at all levels. Compassion in politics, for which I am an ambassador, is campaigning to make it illegal for politicians to deliberately and repeatedly lie to the public. Given the seriousness of their position and the responsibilities they have towards the public, the least we can hope for is that politicians are honest, open and transparent.
Lastly, I believe that we should seek to foster a spirit of compassion, inclusiveness, and kindness at all levels of society, in all aspects of our economy, and at all levels of government. These are the values that have helped save and protect lives during the Covid crisis and have illuminated the darkest of our days. We should bring compassion training to schools Y work places and delegate more power, autonomy and resources to local communities. We cannot hope to solve complicated problems like pandemics, climate collapse, and inequality if we fight each other. Take it from someone who has met a lot of new people in the past few months – kindness and compassion are more likely to win you friends and influence than their opposites.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism