I freely admit to being conflict-averse. Some would say annoyingly so. There seems to me to be so much discord, conflict, and argument, so many angry words and deeds in this world, that I see no possible benefit to me or to anyone else in picking fights, metaphorical or literal, with anyone, unless absolutely necessary.
Easily said and arguably complacent, I know: I am well aware that I am fortunate in having been born and raised in a stable family, and I enjoyed the benefits of a good education, leading to an enjoyable and safe career. I have also enjoyed the stability of a 38 years-and-counting marriage, blessed with three lovely and loving adult children. I am lucky enough to still live with two of them, and a fab daughter-in-law. I am also blessed with friends of all ages drawn from a life surrounded by good people.
I therefore perhaps have rather less to be angry about than many in this far-from-perfect world.
However, it seems to me that there is a lot of anger around at the moment, both in a wider world which has become significantly more polarised and tribal in recent years, and also in the social media bubble in which I have chosen to spend some of my time in recent years - the one inhabited by (a very small proportion of the total of) people who live with diabetes.
I spent four days this week largely absent from Twitter and Facebook, having taken a short holiday staying with some old friends who live in deepest Norfolk in a house with unreliable Wi-Fi and intermittent 4G. I didn’t try to take a “digital detox”, but found myself confined to just an occasional look at social media (usually provoked by a notification when out and about), without the means easily to reply or get involved in any prolonged exchanges.
It turns out I inadvertently chose a good few days to take this unplanned break: returning home to a catch-up on my accounts, I saw much hostility, notably the justified but arguably excessive and misdirected anger about Paul Hollywood’s ill-advised “diabetes on a plate” quip from Tuesday’s Great British Bake-Off; a simmering row involving many about the nature and extent of the problem surrounding healthcare professionals’ use of language in talking to and about the people in their care; and finally a poorly-judged advertising campaign by Diabetes UK seeking to draw attention to the dangers posed by some of the potential complications of diabetes.
In all these cases, there is usually some merit in what is said on all sides, some justification for the anger, and some justification for the anger about the anger. What saddens me is the way in which the immediacy of our hyper-connected world causes such rapid, and therefore almost by definition, unreflective responses. And in that sense, I am grateful that my own unplanned absence from social media gave me the chance to sit back, watch and reflect, rather than piling in with my own, probably imperfect, words.
Social media, especially Twitter, is in many ways a megaphone in which those who say most, and say it loudest, can very easily be mistaken for the majority. It gives us all the means to chip in with comments which are potentially “heard” by 1000s, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to join in when you agree with something, even if in a pre-social media world you might have simply noticed, commented to those sitting with you, and moved on with your life. There are clearly many on Twitter who find it very difficult to say nothing, when often to say nothing is the most effective and powerful of all comments.
Then there’s also the pressure to make a post snappy and eye-catching, which inevitably leads to ever more extreme language. I am NOT defending Paul Hollywood, but was what he said really “vile”? Foolish, ill-advised, ignorant, yes, but not maliciously intended to hurt others. Not “vile” or “disgusting” as many chose to say. We all make mistakes and upset people, we all use words carelessly and cause hurt which we then regret: it's part of being human.
The megaphone of Twitter made sure that criticism of Mr Hollywood’s ill-informed quip made it into mainstream media, and quite rightly so, but the real villain of the piece was, as some rightly pointed out, the programme makers. I am sure that there is much left on the cutting room floor after an edition of GBBO or any similar programme is made, and it wouldn’t have taken a PR genius to spot the potential backlash to a diabetes joke.
Then what of the #LanguageMatters debate? I fully recognise that there is a continuing need for care and sensitivity to be used by HCPs in what they say to and about people with diabetes, but in my own experience of living with diabetes, I have never experienced anything beyond amused irritation at what people have said, and to be honest I have got better things to do than spend time calling out every single inappropriate word or expression used about me or others with my condition. In all areas of my life, I mind rather more about peoples’ manner and attitude, rather than what they say. The right words can be said, but the speaker may say them in a manner which betrays dutiful adherence rather than genuine empathy and concern. Just as when someone in a shop wishes me to “have a nice day” I am only impressed if their manner suggests they care about me as an individual.
I wonder how many people with diabetes or other conditions have genuinely been demoralised and demotivated by things said by HCPs? It’s very easy to adopt a reaction, having seen someone else’s, and join in the hue and cry.
It appears that “being nice” is not good enough according to some. But it’s not a bad way to live your life, and personally I think I’ll just try to be nice and hope others do likewise to me, knowing that I can’t please all the people all the time, but at least I tried. And if I’m angry, I’ll say so myself. But don’t hold your breath waiting.
“Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend” Lennon and McCartney often said some pretty profound things, so I'll call this post We Can work it Out