Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Today I was reading a story about a security guard who jokingly posted about supporting his “beer funds”, and put up a way for people to donate money. As it turns out, people did. I’m not sure if this is a tribute to the good-hearted nature of people, or just that they don’t really read when they donate to a cause. None the less, he decided that, instead of using the money to buy beer, he would donate it to a charitable cause.
This is good, right?
Then a local reporter dug into his tweets, and found two of them that were meant to be tongue-in-cheed from seven years ago that were at least in poor taste if not offensive. This caused a backlash, of course. Then somebody dug into the past tweets of the reporter, and found offensive tweets as well.
There are a couple of things that we need to realize, and frankly, a national discussion has to be had. First of all, who hasn’t done or said things that they’ve come to regret? I know that I’ve made jokes in the past that I would never make today, and I’m sure I’m saying things that I will later realize were insensitive as well. This is growth; it is something that we should, in principle, all aspire to. And when we grow and learn, we realize the mistakes of our past, but, as we all know, the internet never forgets. Unfortunately.
Secondly, it has become a very common (and frankly humorous) practice to dig into past tweets of politicians and celebrities to find comments that contradict current statements. Most of my friends are liberal, so the ones I see are conservative commentators, and even the president himself, criticizing President Obama for something he did “back then”, and praising the president for doing the exact same thing.
This is the discussion we need to have. When should we hold past comments and jokes against a person, and when should we realize that they had grown and learned? I’m not suggesting that we forget what they might have said or done; offensive is offensive, and I do apologize for anything I might have said that others find offensive in the past. But I also hope that people will recognize when these occurred during a time in my life that I was still naive about the subject. If I hadn’t learned, then I absolutely should be held accountable. But this beer swilling good-hearted security guard clearly had the best of intentions by donating this ill-gotten gain for beer to charity. That’s a good thing. So, is it possible that he has moved on? And if he moved on, should the rest of us dwell in the past?
No answers here. just questions to a discussion I believe we, as a society, need to have.
I will add this to further the discussion, though. I do believe that there is a distinct difference between stupid and irresponsible things a teenager says (as he was at that time), and adults (as the president was when he was tweeting offensive things, although, frankly, he still is today). The danger here, of course, is young people using this as a license to be offensive, kind of along the lines of somebody committing a crime because they’re young enough to know they won’t be tried as an adult. But, even at that, couldn’t we tell the difference between somebody who is honestly naive, and somebody who is trying to take advantage of the system?
Maybe we need to compare old tweets to recent behaviors. Recently, a conservative podcaster insulted Greta Thunberg on a national news program, suggesting she had some kind of mental disease (I forget the exact terminology). For the record, Greta does NOT have any mental disease; she suffers from a mild form of autism, but is clearly highly functional, probably moreso than many of the world “leaders” she addressed at the UN considering her natural leadership abilities. But back to this podcaster, I have no doubt in my mind that if you were to dig back ten years ago, you could find similar offensive tweets and posts that make fun of the same sort of thing. Compare those tweets and jokes to what he is saying today, and I think a case could absolutely be made to hold them against him, as it establishes a long-term pattern that is clearly still occurring today. But that’s quite different from somebody who donated money that he didn’t feel he earned to charity being held accountable for mistakes of his youth.
Okay, as I promised, I’m not ending the conversation. I don’t want to tell anybody what to do about this, but I hope I have given my readers a few things to consider, and urge you all to carry the discussion forward.