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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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Fear about 'cancel culture', plus how to cope with seeing a former close friend around - it's Dear Fifi

It’s Dear Fifi, back at it again.

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Full disclosure: I’m writing this a good few days early because my parents are visiting me in Vietnam and I’ll be up the walls trying to track their whistlestop tour of the country. Wish me luck!

Got your own parental situation? Or a totally unrelated beef? Get at me right here.

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I’m worried about the future. I’m worried about how social media will be used against my children. Not to get into the ins and out of Liam Neeson. He said what he did was terrible. It wasn’t something that was dug up from his yearbook, where he apologised for being caught. And the mob still wanted to destroy his career and life.

How do people get redemption from their past? The morals of society change, I worry that there’s views that we all hold now that are acceptable that won’t be in the future. I’m sure if all the conversations and jokes from when we were young were recorded, we’d have massive regrets.

I think you’re blurring two issues. Firstly, Liam Neeson said something pretty damn racist freely in an interview, then he faced the consequences. Bear in mind he is a well-seasoned public figure and his apology has been quite lacking. I agree reaction wasn’t always directly related to the specifics of what he said, but he didn’t help matters whatsoever. Plus he’s not a young teenager on Snapchat so this is a red herring comparison, so let’s drop it. (Trevor Noah had a reasonable take on this if you’re still thinking about it, btw.)

So. You’re dancing around the term “cancel culture” – a recent cultural moment which has been characterised as millennials online writing people off entirely after a misstep, be it grave or trivial. (But it’s worth asking: who decides what is grave or trivial?)

You’re worried for a future generation, who may be using social media right this instant willy-nilly. Look, if you’re worried about your own kids, then I strongly advise you have a proper chat with them about the power of words and how they can be received – not only online but everywhere. A good rule is never to post anything online you wouldn’t feel comfortable being on the front page of a newspaper or read out in court. Provide the right tools to protect them properly. 

Next, you’re right that these days there is a trend of people being held to account for their wrongdoings – in many cases, this is welcome and long overdue. I think it’s important not to conflate the good work of movements like MeToo bringing sexual assault to light, for example, with what kids might be messaging each other on Instagram today. Again, you’re conflating a lot of issues. The only common thread is that we should be teaching everyone to speak and act with respect. There’s no boogeyman out there trying to catch us out. We’re just responsible for our actions. They don’t exist in a vacuum. 

Again, I whole-heartedly agree that almost all of us without exception have done foolish, offensive or dangerous things when younger, stuff that we would never stand over today and would hate to be reminded about. But surely those misdeeds are on a scale? Not all foolish, youthful mistakes are created equal. Some are bad or tasteless jokes, perhaps, but some are hate speech, or undermine our later actions, or present other difficulties with more nuance than you’re allowing for, I think. 

We all learn and grow throughout our lives, with any degree of luck. The political and cultural climate is changing at warp speed these days thanks to the internet, and jokes that might have been acceptable 5 years ago are not any more. I think we can all agree on that – or anyone reasonable can, at least. 

So, since none of us are without some degree of sin most likely, I think it’s about what the indiscretion is exactly and (most importantly) how we handle it being brought to our attention. This isn’t black and white. It should be taken case by case – not all of our pasts are the same and not all will be judged the same as a result. But what is universal is the importance of how we react to being challenged and told we were wrong or caused pain.

If this happens, we should really, truly listen to those who know more. We should attempt to learn. We shouldn’t deny or hurt people further with attempts to justify ourselves. We should apologise, and mean it.  We should take action to address wrongdoing, if necessary. We should step back and try to learn from things. We should try harder. That goes for everyone. We all fuck up. No one is entirely beyond redemption, although perhaps some won’t give it to you. That’s okay. Some people just don’t seem to want it much either.

If you’re worried about the future, then one thing you can do today is tell your kids all of this and make sure they understand. Good luck.

Do you have any advice on dealing with the transitional period in-between being close friends with some one to just an acquaintance? Someone I was close with has found a new group of friends and isn’t interested in making me a part of it. I have no hard feelings there. 

But we are in almost all the same college classes. I find it very awkward, as he seems uncomfortable talking to me with his new friends around and sometimes ignores me when they’re there. 

However he doesn’t do any of this when we are one on one. Should I just stop trying? I don’t mind that he doesn’t seem to want be friends with me. I just hate the awkwardness everyday in lectures.

This guy sounds like a total jerk, but you don’t have to be one in return. Since you’ve got so much unavoidable contact, take the high road. Be polite and civil to everyone, including him by being consistently and actively friendly.

Say “hello” when you walk into a classroom or lecture theatre. Very few people, except for the unconscionably rude, will ignore someone saying hi to them in that scenario. It’s their problem if they don’t say it back. You don’t have to say more than hi, I think, but make sure you’re not shrinking around them. You have no reason to. You have as much right to be there as anyone.

Not to sound like someone’s ma, but you know the measure of this guy now. And it’s not good. You were close, but he’s shown his true colours. He’s happy to talk when alone, but rejects you when others come around. That’s not fair on you and says a lot about his character, I think. Fuck that. You want friends who are proud to be with you, no matter the circumstances. He isn’t one of those friends. Fine.

I agree you shouldn’t be overly annoyed though – again, it’s his problem, his mistake, and reflects more poorly on him than it does on you. Let him at it. Water off a duck’s back. (That said, don’t be too much of a light touch if he comes crawling back to you when he is alone or needs something. Make sure he earns your respect if he wants it back.)

Awkwardness is just a phase. Breeze through it, stay on being friendly, keep your head down and do the work, and it’ll all just pass. You sound like you’re much more mature than this gang anyway. 

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