I want to give you a glimpse behind the curtain for a moment. At Nexus, we have had an ongoing conversation throughout this year about what our role as the student press is. The ideas and opinions fall roughly into two camps. One is that we are a representation of the student voice, for better or for worse. The other is that we are supposed to represent the better angels of our nature, to attempt (again, for better or for worse) to exemplify the kinds of perspectives and behaviours we think should exist more broadly in the world. There are cases to be made in favour of each and we try to strike what is oftentimes a fine balance.
Even so, sometimes we get it wrong. And when we do, we want to own that. Last week we ran a Snapped that has stirred some controversy. The result has been a pretty self-reflective few days in the Nexus office, even by our normal standards. I won’t rehash it for those who missed it, but for those who didn’t and were affected by it, we apologise. It was not our intention to alienate or hurt anyone.
Two things bear pointing out here. The first is that despite the best of intentions we can still do damage for which we should take responsibility and put things right. If we are honest and earnest in that respect we can always do better. Words matter. They can be used constructively or destructively. They can be used to exhort and encourage or they can be used to bully and oppress. We shouldn’t take the responsibility of what we say lightly. Words wield enormous power and they should be treated as such.
The second is that intentions matter. There is a difference between laughing and calling your friend a bitch because she ate the last Tim Tam and calling someone else a bitch because she hooked up with your ex. There is a difference in calling your mate a dickhead because he spilled beer down his t-shirt and shouting it at a driver that cut you off in traffic. The word in each case is the same but the context, and so the meaning, is different.
The intent of the Snapped picture in question was, on the face of it, self-deprecating humour. It was not an attack on anybody, nor was it designed to cause offence. The word is considered by some to be offensive, and that’s fair enough. We should all be more conscious to not marginalise our neighbours and we should consider the impact of our words on other people. On the other hand, we should also seek to understand the context, and so the meaning of words that are spoken (or printed). To attempt to truly understand what a person is saying and, if necessary, give the benefit of the doubt to the best motives of others. If we fail to do so we run the risk of becoming so disconnected from each other that true communication is not even possible. That is a dangerous place to end up and we don’t have to look very far to see the effects. This decay in the social fabric is all over our news feeds.
Culture is an ever evolving set of norms and values through which we hope, over time, to make progress. Cultural evolution can be a slow process. It is more of a dance than a hike but over time we should see things improve. Are things better than they were fifty years ago? Convincingly. Is there more work to be done? No question. That process takes all of us, on all sides. To speak carefully, but also to listen.