Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Living Dead Past

Listening to an interview on the radio today with the recently sacked editor of Gay Times, I was left wondering whether there was a point at which any of us could safely feel that past misdemeanours were dead and buried.  I'm not talking about past criminal activities you might think that you'd got away with - if you once sexually assaulted someone and it has only just come out, for instance, I have no sympathy - but rather things you once said or wrote, or maybe opinions you once held of which you are no longer proud.  The guy from Gay Times, for instance, lost his job after comments he made on social media several years ago - most of which were misogynistic, racist and just downright unpleasant - came to light.  Or rather were brought to light by the hipsters playing at journalism on Buzzfeed.  Now, the stuff he wrote is pretty horrendous and, frankly, indefensible.  But that doesn't mean that he'd express those opinions today - he says he regrets writing the stuff and that it was done during a difficult phase of his life when he was drinking heavily.  None of that excuses what he did, but, arguably, it at least makes it understandable.  After all, who of us hasn't said or dome something, either in the heat of the moment or while under the influence, which we've subsequently regretted?  Should we be judged on the basis of such outbursts for the rest of our lives?  Should such idiocy be allowed to eclipse everything else we've ever done in our lives?

Believe me, I know what it is to be judged over and over again for a single lapse of judgement.  It becomes an albatross around your neck, constantly dragging you back down every time you think you are moving forward again.  I paid a heavy price at the time for my misjudgement.  I naively thought that would be it, that, given a suitable lapse of time, I could move on.  Yet for years afterward, it seemed to be the only thing potential employers would focus on in interviews, regardless of my subsequent unblemished record.  But it isn't just major mis-steps which get raked up in attempts to discredit you, I've found.  At various times I've had all manner of throw away comments I've made at work, usually in jest, brought up as 'evidence' against me during workplace disputes.  (We're not talking about sexist or racist 'jokes' here, but rather comments questioning policy).  Always, it is dragged out of context and, as I usually don't actually remember saying these things, hearsay, as far as I'm concerned.  Which is where it usually ends, as there is no actual proof of what I did or didn't say.let alone the context in which it was said.  Before I sound utterly paranoid, this experience isn't unique to me, many of my colleagues have suffered similar experiences when dealing with management).

Luckily, unlike the out going editor of Gay Times, I'm not of a generation which feels it necessary to commit my every thought and opinion to social media, where it can be shared with anyone and remains on public display for time immemorial.  Because that's the problem in this internet age, your past mistakes are there to be raked up by anyone trawling for dirt, (or a 'story' as Buzzfeed prefers to call it).  So, far from being dead and buried, your past can be brought back to haunt you, over and over again, making it impossible for people to move on from earlier mistakes.  Which is grossly unfair,  Surely we need to give people the benefit of the doubt and accept that they have changed.  After all, we even give murderers a chance to restart their lives once they've served their sentences.   In the case of the guy from Gay Times, surely he should be allowed to move on from his earlier offensiveness?  After all, as I understand it, these unpleasant social media comments do seem to be confined to a specific time frame and (so far) nobody has dragged up anything more recent.  Which would indicate that, as he claims, it was an isolated incident.  if he really was the evil bastard indicated by the tweets and posts in question, there would be a continuing pattern of such behaviour. Sadly, we seem to have become increasingly judgemental, both as individuals and as a society in recent years.   Once condemned (and there seems to be a lot of condemnation going around) there's no way back.  No forgiveness, no understanding, no possibility of reform.  Which makes for a very bleak perspective on life.



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