I remember a friend back in sixth form declaring to a chorus of outrage that she didn’t get why Malala was getting so much attention – she had just managed to do the right thing at the right time.
I understood the sentiment – I was just that much more ashamed to admit to it.
Some vicious tweets from broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer and Brexit campaigner Arron Banks have today met a similar chorus of outrage.
While there is something particularly nasty about targeting Greta Thunberg, and the comments absolutely merit the backlash they have provoked, I have also found myself interested in the sentiment they express.
What prompts such high-profile people to express such derogatory opinions, and what elicits them in the first instance?
I’m wondering how much it’s because these figures like Malala and Greta – who capture and represent a Zeitgeist – act to mystify and alienate those excluded by that change.
These figures – who capture and represent a Zeitgeist – act to mystify and alienate those excluded by that change.
At the time of Obama’s inauguration in 2008, I was eleven. To my discredit I remember asking my parents what ‘the big deal’ was about him being the first black President.
I don’t wish to excuse the actions of Hartley-Brewer or Banks. However, I wonder if what they are expressing does not have as much malice behind it as we would like to tarnish them with.
My comment around Obama was not malicious, but born out of ignorance of over 200 years of American race relations and of what Obama’s inauguration therefore represented.
The comments of Hartley-Brewer or Banks seem malicious, but it just might be possible that they are born out of an exclusion from the Zeitgeist Greta represents, a collective reckoning with the climate crisis.
If I’m right about this, I think it has interesting implications for how we respond to seemingly unconscionable comments.
When we express outrage, we are trying to indicate, ‘woah, you’re missing something key here’. But I think there is danger that this magnifies someone’s sense of exclusion and bewilderment; I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to show compassion and think of outrageous comments as people signalling they are left-out by a change.
I wonder if it would be better to think of outrageous comments as people signalling they are left-out.
After all, the nature of Zeitgeists is change, and the nature of change is loss.
Greta represents an important and welcome change.
But to Hartley-Brewer and Banks, Greta also represents a loss.
We need to work out how to help those who experience the current change as a loss. I think it’s climate grief, just not as we know it.