#StayWoke, but stay kind
My friend Kevin calls himself a warrior. He spends a great deal of his time hunched before his computer, pounding on his keyboard to, in his words, “right what is wrong in this messed-up society.” He is a warrior, he insists, a social justice warrior. He wore that label like a badge of honor up until it started being used as a pejorative. Now he just says he’s “woke,” the millennial slang for being socially aware.
Over the years, he has been a feminist, a Marxist, a multiculturalist, a civil and human rights activist, and a dozen other roles he proudly assumes online. This is fantastic. Social consciousness or “wokeness” is always good to aspire for. You go on social media and you find that it is teeming with people who claim to be woke.
Make no mistake, I, too, have causes that I fervidly advocate for. But what I lack in this whole crusade for social wokeness that my friend Kevin is dripping with is pure, unabashed animosity. He could go for hours unleashing hostilities online, arguing with other netizens about various social issues ranging from unfair budget allocations to high school bullies.
Recently, a bullying incident involving a student beating up another in Ateneo de Manila High School sparked public outrage. A great number of Facebook users, including Kevin, was out for the bully’s head, some even going as far as challenging the young bully to a fistfight and threatening his life.
For someone who was bullied in the past, I thought that this clapback against the abuser would give me satisfaction in some way: Finally, the oppressors are being waterboarded with their own bitter medicine. It was supposed to make me feel better. Except, it didn’t.
When I read about a grown man challenging a young boy into a fistfight and thousands of other netizens cheering on the challenger, I couldn’t help but be appalled by what our society has become. The kid was in high school, and the social justice warriors were foaming at the mouth to see him bleed and pay for what he did.
Of course, punitive measures have to be taken against criminal offenses, that is no question. But we have the legal justice system for that.
Some might think online animosity is an effective way to mobilize us into achieving social change. But at what cost? A world filled with angry internet mobsters perennially poised to take down the next great social offender? It may be appealing on the surface, but it can be a very slippery slope.
I used to think that the noise spewed by the online community was what the country needed to achieve progress. But the more entrenched I became in this chaotic online world, the more I noticed how easily it could slip into an echo chamber of hate.
In a social landscape obsessed with online bloodbath purportedly in pursuit of social justice, it is paramount, if not, vital, to be an agent of kindness. Change can still be achieved without all the hostility. It’s perfectly okay to be woke, but in the face of all the wokeness, we need to put kindness at the fore if we want a harmonious society. It is important to cry out against injustices and fight oppression, but I believe it is improvement that needs to be the driving force behind it, not hate.
I once heard this story about a tribe in South Africa. When a member commits a transgression, he is placed in the middle of the entire tribe. All the tribe members circle around the offender, and one by one they recite all the positive attributes and all the good deeds the transgressor has done in his lifetime. This ritual aims to remind the accused that we all misstep sometimes, but we can also be redeemed by being reminded that we are all, in the end, beautiful and worthy. The ritual concludes with a joyous celebration and a recommitment to seeing the good in each of the tribe’s members. Maybe the tribe is onto something that’s worth looking into.
In my college essay, I was asked what change I wished to see in the world. I replied: I wish to see a world where kindness is no longer celebrated; where kindness has become so common that it ceases to become a cause for celebration, and is but the norm.
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Kristian Somera, 28, is a freelance writer and holds a degree in communication from Ateneo de Davao University.
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