errāre hūmānum est.
Last night I was fortunate enough to listen to the stories of Sam Dastyari, Mel Greig and Paul McDermott when they presented their stories on the consequences of alleged Chinese deals, prank calls and the inappropriate facsimile messages. Sam, Mel and Paul generously shared their experiences at the sold out Ethics of F*#%ing Up hosted by the Ethics Centre in Redfern.
Paul asked the audience to put up their hands if they had ever F*#%ed up. About 90% of
the audience put their hands up (I suspect the other 10% were just too shy to share). I was curious to know how a young senator in the Australian Parliament reacts when he loses his power, authority and “fame” in a fortnight. I was also particularly interested in the human story surrounding a seemingly benign prank that some say lead to the suicide of a young vulnerable nurse.
But what really struck me was the courage of Mel Greig to be vulnerable and to tell a bunch of strangers how her actions unintentionally (and probably not directly) ended in the loss of life.
There is of course an instinct for us to create stories with simple cause and effect explanations. The modern media from print, TV, radio and social media are expert at creating the reductionist story void of context. After all context serves only to confuse and makes the event less sensational and maybe even un-newsworthy.
But we have a lust for gossip, a lust for sensationalism and a lust to judge without the context, without the facts and without the understanding of the human impact of sensationalising and judging. In the moment of f*#%ing up there is nowhere to turn. It’s a lonely place, friends and family abandon the person in the spotlight and that only serves to sabotage any attempts to bounce back from the brink.
The evening gave me food for thought. I had judged Mel and Sam before I understood the context. I have judged others harshly including the Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft after the ball tampering scandal.
“It’s only a game of cricket” Mel reminded us. And for this we are prepared to let our lust for scandal to potentially ruin the lives of young men.
One of the key messages for me was that the acts of “F*#%ing up” have no agreed rules for the consequences that will be endured. A married President of the USA can have “sexual relations” with a staffer and keep his job while a young rugby player can tweet his religious beliefs about the gay community and lose his livelihood.
This subject for me needs a deeper dive into the ethics of behaviour. Are our behaviours defined as a “f*#% up” only when the full reaction of our community is understood? And who in our community determines which behaviours should lead to a fall from grace and which ones should be ignored? The media?
I guess we are all human and vulnerable to f*#%ing up at home and at work. So why do we enjoy isolating the perpetrator to the point that causes depression, anxiety and addiction? If we saw the emotional impact of our reactions would we be so ready to jump on Twitter with our sanctimonious judging?
There is a real human cost to the way we react. I don’t think I want to pay that cost anymore.
I was humbled by the courage of the panel, in particular Mel Greig. She showed me that it is possible to bounce back after a witch hunt driven by lust for sensationalism. She survived to tell the tale so that others can hold on to hope that they too will emerge stronger for the experience.
Lets bear this in mind when we engage in gossip at work and in our community.
Gossip has a victim.