Sacred Cows, Social Media Suicide…

…and the merits of being de-friended and unfollowed. The hierarchies in many Public Sector institutions survive in echo chambers, that is to say, they do not, whether by design or simply the result of being cozily enmeshed in sycophancy, knowingly ever expose themselves to views, opinions and even empirical data that might collide with their view of the world and splinter the carefully maintained paradigm through which they view life. For proof of this just watch the Senior Directors of any Public Body, NHS Trusts being a prime candidate, when they are forced, generally kicking and screaming, to meet with and address members of the communities they serve at public meetings to discuss proposals or planned changes to services. The first and most obvious thing you will notice from their body language is that they simply do not want to be there, and this is because they do not think the decisions they make should be influenced in any way by the public they serve and who pay their wages; the temerity of those pesky taxpayers seems to know no bounds…but rules are rules and if the overlords and their regulations dictate that a Public Body must “engage” (the second most abused use of the English language in the last twenty years, surpassed only by that timeless classic, “working in partnership”) as part of the process often misleadingly labelled as consultation, then the hierarchy will duly appear at the designated time and tick the box that says “we listened”. When, if, they should actually stop speaking and start listening to those meer mortals fortunate enough to be present in their company, within approx. 30 seconds you will be praying for the ground to open up and swallow them to save them from the obvious state of discomfort they have entered as they are forced to make eye contact with real people, and even worse, to hear views that might conflict with their own. To say they become discombobulated would be a massive understatement. I recall an NHS Director who suggested to me, without a hint of irony, that we should only survey our stakeholders with questions we knew they would provide favourable answers to; if you had ever thought Dilberts experiences were just a figment of Scott Adams overactive imagination, rest assured, in the Public Sector the reality is a whole lot more surreal.

Unfortunately, the hierarchies that exist in some of our Public Sector institutions are increasingly straying into the creative commons of Social Media…the theory was that the seemingly boundless, unbindable and unsullied domain of cyberspace would allow us to circumvent hierarchies that are stifling innovation, enabling us to share our views and opinions freely, exchanging ideas and thereby growing the collective sum of our knowledge as we went; hurrah I hear you say…unless you’re one of the old school hierarchy that is. But the figures of hierarchy that are now appearing on Social Media, the Court and their Jesters, often encouraged by well-meaning communication departments naively exhorting them to enter the world of social media and “show their human side”, these figures did not change when they entered hyperspace. They did not exchange their old school top-down “we know best” paradigms for the collaborative open view of a co-created future, they have simply brought their views, stifling sense of bureaucracy and structure with them…and they will let you know when they think you have stepped out of line. And it would seem that I stepped out of line on Social Media this week. Yes, I know, hard to believe. My heinous crime was to criticise the campaign currently being run across the NHS entitled #hellomynameis (Hello, my name is) and I was subsequently unfollowed by some of my contacts on Twitter. The only other time I’ve encountered such a playground reaction and was noticeably unfollowed on Twitter was after I started to publish a cheerily entitled weekly paper called, “Lets Talk Suicide“, and I shared it on Social Media; apparently highlighting such thorny distasteful topics in certain positive thinking circles on Social Media is not de rigueur. It seems that in our world of positive thinking, a world in which all clinically depressed people seemingly need is a positive mental attitude to deal with the chemical fluctuations running riot in their heads and the suicidal tendencies that tens of thousands tragically fall victim to each year, the notion that there may be slightly more to this global epidemic than a shortage of PMA, is untenable in certain quarters.

The notion that “all should be well” has so permeated our society that somebody once actually accused me of “stealing their happy” (no really, they used that phrase) when I had the audacity to introduce the topic of suicide into a conversation; you’d think I had just told them I was a direct descendant of Hitler and a close friend of Kim Jong Un; as it happens Kim hasn’t sent a birthday card for a long time now and I’ve defriended him from Facebook. I hadn’t meant to steal their happy or deliberately set out to spoil the enjoyable day they were obviously having, focusing on the positives, running through thick golden corn fields of untapped inspiration that nestled under a rich unbroken ceiling of blue skies thinking whilst envisaging as yet undiscovered possible pristine futures from the cockpit of their flawless positive brain, but with hindsight, I’m pretty pleased I did steal their happy and make them feel uncomfortable……in fact, the more I think about it I realise that what I really wish I had done is stolen their happy, tied it up tightly, dropped it off for a year inside the mind of Jimmy McGovern and then handed it back, splintered, reshaped and changed forever, like a modern day reversal of Pauls Damascene moment. Action and actions that change our world can and often do arise from great discomfort; just ask Bob Geldof how he came to launch Band Aid. He was made to feel uncomfortable, very uncomfortable in his own front room by the disturbing pictures he saw being broadcast into it on his TV…just imagine for a second, if instead of being provoked into righteous anger and action, Bob Geldof had rung the BBC asking them to take those disturbing pictures of starving children off the air because it was “stealing his happy”? Being exposed to views, knowledge and opinions that challenge us, can be good for us, and ultimately our discomfort can be an incredibly stimulating and powerful catalyst for change. Changed futures belong to those who are dissatisfied with the present and the status-quo.

If you are fortunate enough to have been unscathed, or insensitive enough to maintain a belief in Karma, or as some would term it, the ignoring of wrongs you can’t be arsed to address, and if you have a sense that there is a happy ever after for everyone if only they would grasp it, then I wish you well in your life on planet positivity. But I won’t apologise for expressing views that might jar, they are genuinely not intended to offend, they are only designed to provoke thought and I see the expressing of them as a tribute to free speech and democracy. As Ayn Rands hero in Atlas Shrugged, her famously lengthy, ill-informed, ultimately misguided but nonetheless entertaining love song to unfettered capitalism, famously observed, “there are no wrong thoughts, only the refusal to think”…

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