I hope you can listen to this clip from Laura Whitmore's BBC Radio 5 Live show today. If not, she was speaking about the death and life of her friend Caroline Flack, who is believed to have taken her own life yesterday at the age of 40.
Whitmore, and others today, are trying to open our eyes to the power that mean people have on social media and in several forms of journalism. Several people feel strongly that, while Caroline Flack may have had mental health issues and other pressures about which none of us know, the various media posts and articles highlighting her problems were unkind, unnecessary, and might have contributed to her desperation. It is certainly true that there are many cowards who hide behind their keyboards spewing vitriol anonymously at public and private people. There is also the tabloid mentality, that preys on our weakness for gossip, for which we too need to take some responsibility.
It so happens that while catching up on my Daf Yomi today, I came across the following statement by the rabbis of the Talmud in yesterday's section:
“it is preferable for one to throw oneself into a fiery furnace rather than humiliate another in public.” (Berachot 43b)
It stands out for me today for two reasons: first of all, it is not new that humans seek to humiliate each other in public. It is only the medium that may have changed. And if our ancestors thought it necessary to teach such a teaching, that suggests it was getting out of hand for them also.
Secondly, when will we learn? If public humiliation has been a perennial problem for people, and humans have always suffered and inflicted suffering in this way, when is it going to stop? Could it be that WE are the ones who finally sort it out?
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. And if you are already a kind person, thank you, and is it possible to be even kinder?