I’m writing this on the Monday just before I start packing for the 4 day trip, which I am sharing this year (as always) with my husband and (for the first time) with my Crime Fiction Loving Dad, as well as with a whole busload of crime writers who I’m almost impossibly proud to call my friends.
I was a solitary kid growing up, and as an adult I haven’t really had lots of friends to date, but since joining the crime-writing fraternity I have been blown away by the community, the camaraderie, the sheer love, and I am genuinely honoured that I’ve ended up with friends – genuine people-I-can-call-when-my-shit-becomes-too-much-for-me friends.
Friends who – as good friends should - call out my shit when it’s out of order: This week I made a comment on my social media. I was seeing footage of an event in Northern Ireland and my frustration at the social conservatism and homophobia of certain politicians and their supporters boiled over and lead to me making a comment about all the people at that event and – worse – all the people of a particular affiliation in the region.
And a friend called me out on it. This wasn’t tikki-torch ‘good people on both sides’ ism; this was genuine ‘You just called me – by inclusion – a backwards piece of shit, and I’m not.”
And he was right: he isn’t. My anger at a situation (the fact that women’s reproductive rights and equal marriage have only been passed because the local politicians were – for now – overruled by the government in London, and that they might yet block both regulations) boiled over into a crass generalisation.
I knew that there was a conversation to be had about what I said and why, and about how he felt and why.
But I knew that Social Media is not the place to have that conversation. I also knew that my feelings, at the moment where I was called out, were strange: Embarrassment blended with irritation, then a flash of anger, then a moment of calm where I looked at what I had written, looked at what he had written, realised that this was where most people doubled-down, where the smouldering embers were quite often on Social Media doused in kerosene, and….
What was the purpose of my original comment? To vent my anger.
Had I made a generalisation? Yes.
Was it unfair? Well any generalisation, by it’s nature, is unfair – not every ‘X’ is a ‘Y’ – so yes, it was unfair to some in the referenced group.
So I took the conversation offline.
I said sorry.
I explained why I was angry. I said what I wanted to have happen (ie I talked about what I was FOR rather than what I was AGAINST, and thereby made the conversation mean something because instead of a generalisation I was talking specifics – i.e. what I am specifically asking those Unionist politicians if / when they return to Stormont to do.)
I look at so many Social Media spats these days and they are all anti- they are all saying “This person is cancelled,” or “This group are all bastards,” and I fell into the trap.
And it’s not like it was a well camouflaged trap of the most malevolent genius.
It was the trap I seem to spend half my life pointing out to other people: Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t be a troll. Think: Is what I am trying to say actually sayable in 280 characters? Is it a nuanced statement? Is the audience on a micro-blogging platform really the place to say it?
And if you say it, and get it wrong: If offence is taken either genuinely because you were a dick or via a misunderstanding caused by your trying to discuss a complex issue on a fucking postage stamp and if you get called out for the inherent contradictions in your half a paragraph, what then?
Do you tell the offended that they’re stupid for taking offence, or that they’re clearly deliberately misunderstanding you, or do you double down and take the ‘but the other guys are just as bad” tack?
All I knew was And I don’t want to be the person adding to that environment where debate increasingly consists of purely opposing statements followed by fury and ultimately leading to death threats, and where nobody seems overly worried on explaining themselves or in understanding the opposing viewpoint.
I’ll make an exception for Nazis, open ‘phobes, and racists of any ilk. But they normally self-identify, so I think there’s little risk of me getting it wrong in those environments.
So instead of doubling-down and making my anger a flame to burn down the internet, I’ll see my friend face to face at Harrogate, this big forward looking smart creative man, and we’ll talk about what we can do, not what we can resent, not what we can be against, but what we can be for.
And we won’t change the world, but we might be able to make a start.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Derek Farrell is the author of 5 Danny bird mysteries. “Death of a Diva,” “Death of a Nobody,” “Death of a Devil,” and “Death of an Angel” can all be purchased from the usual e-stores or directly from the publisher here. The fifth, “Come to Dust,” is available exclusively as a free download from his website .
His jobs have included: Burger dresser, Bank teller, David Bowie’s paperboy, and Investment Banker on the 80th floor of the World Trade Centre.
He’s just delivered a sixth Danny Bird mystery and is going straight into a new book as otherwise he tends to fret.
He’s often on social media and can be found at.
Twitter: @DerekIFarrell (twitter.com/DerekIFarrell)
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