Even with the best of intentions...


There have been two—what I would charitably refer to as—faux pas raging on Twitter the last few days. Both by popular authors, and both generating significant backlash, as the collective hive of Twitter is want to do. The first was by Australian author John Marsden, who prescribed the following for school bullying victims in an interview about his latest book:

He said he sympathised with children having a hard time, but would advise them to “look at your own likeable and unlikeable behaviours and try to reduce the list of unlikeable behaviours and unlikeable values and unlikeable attitudes and over time that will probably have a significant effect”.

And then yesterday, American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted this in response to the latest American shooting:

In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun

Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

Both these points are true if viewed objectively. If you change yourself to be less unique and therefore reduce your target for bullying, you won’t be bullied as much. Gun deaths are vastly over-reported, especially in relation to cancer and heart disease. I could speak to both of these, directly or in my nuclear family, before I turned 18. I’ll bet you could do at least one too.

But we’re humans, not robots. These gentleman may have had the best of intentions, but it doesn’t change the fact these messages come across as insensitive, poorly timed, and/or victim blaming. If your aim is to win hearts as well as minds, this is counterproductive.

It reminds me of the time I was in a lift that plummeted three floors, and people on Twitter told me not to worry, because safety lifts made my experience impossible. Being condescending isn’t the best thing to immediately throw at someone who’s rattled and scared.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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