Top News

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Trash talk and bad judgment

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry - Herman Thind/BuzzMachine Media

Am I surprised? No.

Discouraged? Yes.

Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry, a calm, measured voice of public health in British Columbia during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed she and her staff have been the subject of abuse, harassment — and she’s even received death threats and now has security at her home.

A clearly sincere, professional and measured voice in these times of trouble, Henry is hardly the kind of person you’d think would be receiving that kind of abuse. She didn’t make the pandemic, she’s merely trying to exercise the best methods possible to deal with it.

You can understand that there’s frustration: that the decisions that Henry presents have real-world effects not only on the spread of COVID-19, but on businesses and livelihoods as well. You might even understand why that frustration might make a small handful of people completely lose their cool

But I think that’s only a small part of it.

It’s no longer enough to disagree with a political opponent. No, now they have to be insulted, belittled and shouted down. Sneered at. Made fun of — and all of it rolling in the blink of an eye, as fast as you can type it.

Distance, anonymity and ease play a big role, too. It’s far easier to insult someone when you’re not doing it to their face, but instead get to hide behind some anonymous computer handle. It’s easier still when all you have to do is sit down and immediately start typing away when you’re particularly enraged about something. One thing that would help everyone right now? If social media had an automatic cooling-off period built into every post, so you could actually think about what you were shouting.

But I think the biggest single factor — beyond, that is, an ingrained misogyny in some parts of the male population who find successful women particularly threatening — is the overall coarsening of public discourse.

It’s no longer enough to disagree with a political opponent. No, now they have to be insulted, belittled and shouted down. Sneered at. Made fun of — and all of it rolling in the blink of an eye, as fast as you can type it.

A lot of that comes from the south of us — from the ever-present dumpster fire that is American politics right now. You can say that people are paying too much attention to American politics — that would be true, if it wasn’t for the fact that the method and style of politic discourse, advertising, and even the now-common disdain between American political opponents (a disdain that’s occurring from both sides of American politics) is now bleeding into Canadian politics as well.

If you don’t study the symptoms, you don’t have much chance of dealing with the disease when it arrives at your door.

And we have to deal with it, or else be prepared to suffer through it.

And that brings me back to Henry. She’s been thorough, she’s been compassionate, and she’s taken the time to explain the steps that B.C. public health system is taking. You can’t really ask for more than that — so what’s to be gained by heaping on the abuse.

Never forget that experts and skilled professionals have plenty of options. When enough offensiveness or threatening language comes their way, they may burn out, or just simply decide that they don’t need the hassle any more.

You may get someone just as good — you may not. Or you may get an incompetent blowhard who thinks they know everything already, doesn’t bother reading any briefing materials, and makes their decisions based on what way they think the latest prevailing winds are blowing — all the while patting themselves on the back for their own brilliance.

And everyone’s seen how that ends up for the general public during a pandemic. (Here’s a hint — it’s also south of the border.)

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories