Andy Richardson: Take action and learn value between right and wrong
Caroline Flack isn’t the only person who’ll take her own life because of persecution. She’s not the only one who’ll become entangled in a legal web from which there is no escape, nor is she alone in suffering the harsh judgement of strangers.
There will be others who will be placed under so much pressure by circumstance and the nihilistic rage of mean-minded bullies that death seems preferable. Caroline Flack isn’t the only one who has suffered. She’s just the best known. For now.
It’s been a week since the former presenter of Love Island decided she had no roads left to walk. The tragedy of her passing isn’t diminished by the days. If anything, the opposite is true. The magnitude of her departure seems more shocking, more unbelievable as time passes. A talented creative worker who was no less perfect than the next person; Caroline Flack’s death was unnecessary. Her family will forever rue the day. There are many whose conscience will provide a permanent reminder that their nastiness played a small but not insignificant part.
The death of Caroline Flack should teach us lessons. It should lead to an end to social media anonymity, it should lead to the exposure of the cowards – tabloid journalists and their editors, social media trolls, cultural commentators who monetise spite – and it should catalyse greater efforts to make people more accountable for their words. All of us are just a few steps away from tragedy. No one is immune. Few pass through life without experiencing some form of trauma or grief. How we deal with that – and how others deal with us when we are at our lowest and most vulnerable – is what matters most.
Flack’s family and friends ought to be left to grieve. Media intrusion was partly to blame for events; of that there is no doubt. And many might now make smarter choices about the media they consume; just as the people of Liverpool made similar decisions following the Hillsborough disaster. It is not simply newspapers – physical and online – that created untenable pressure. The avalanche of negative social media posts directed at one person by ordinary folk shames us all. And many might now think about whether it is right to post offensive or hurtful posts – or, indeed, consume those posted by others. We are responsible for the words we write, the images we share, the people with whom we engage. And if our actions, or theirs, are disreputable, it is time to stop. Turn off the laptop, delete the app, learn the value between right and wrong. Quit.
That is not to say we should stifle free speech. We live in a democracy and those who went before fought hard for the rights that we enjoy. We have a moral obligation, however, not to abuse that. And we can start by being more kind, by being more measured, by learning to disengage or walk away, by refusing to participate in the bullying. If you wouldn’t say it to another person’s face, while your parent, child or significant other is present, don’t say it online.
Flack is one of many. Most people will know of someone who has found themselves in similar circumstances through no fault of their own. Or, even where there is fault and transgressions have been made, we will know those whose punishment is wholly disproportion, utterly unjust and just plain wrong. There will be those who have lost all in family break-ups, through redundancy, because of ill health or just sheer bad luck. We should all be humble, for we never know when we might be the one suffering. Today in the UK an average of 16 people will take their own life. We all have the ability to help change that. We can listen, be there, offer support. We can intervene, engage in acts of indiscriminate kindness, provide a shoulder on which others might lean.
The tragedy of Caroline Flack is interchangeable with the tragedies that have and will befall people across the Black Country, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Mid-Wales. The details may differ – others might not suffer the awful public humiliation and exposure to which she was subjected – but the pressure will not. There are and will be those who feel life is too much.
Talking helps. And it is our duty as human beings to listen, as best we can, when sparing a few moments can make a difference. Depression is a cruel and daunting beast. A sympathetic ear can help others to evade it.
Caroline Flack had a public profile. But it meant nothing. She was a human being; no more and no less. And there are others today who will be hurting, who will manage to find a way out of the gloom if one or more of us reaches out to them. Life is too short to waste. And as a species, we must not make ourselves responsible for the downfall of others. If nothing else, the death of Caroline Flack should teach us to be more kind.
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