The recent cacophony of criticism surrounding a young lady who wrote a letter to the editor regarding the article ‘My Culture, My Malu’, titled “Pride and Pain in my malu’, caused me to stop and consider. Not about how and when the malu should be shown (which is what the debate was supposed to be about), but rather about who we are as a society.
This woman wrote to the paper under a pseudonym, which is not at all unusual for writers to the Samoa Observer. The vitriolic and vicious comments that ensued were explanation enough for why one may not wish to identify themselves. After all, who wants to engage in “tit-for-tat” slanging matches on the world wide web.
Leading the lynching was Sita Leota’s note “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Rather than discussing the issue at hand, Sita launched into a scathing and personal attack about the writer’s identity and their “Samoan-ness”. The crowd cheered, and gleefully re-posted. Over half a thousand people pushed the like button to show their support. The comments were all pride and back-patting about how they LOVED how Sita had put that girl in her place. It reminded me of nothing more than shameful school scenes of a bully beating up on some smaller kid, surrounded by a circle of children baying for blood. It was all “High-five! Did you see that hit! It was hilaaaaariooous!”
Now when I say “it reminded me of”, I should be clear. This is not something I ever saw growing up, or going to school in Samoa, where this type of behaviour was not in any way tolerated. It’s something I’ve only ever seen on television. So I have always believed that bullying was an anathema to Samoan society, something that was shunned, something that even children knew they should not stoop to.
Apparently the advent of the internet and social media has changed that. It’s so easy to rip apart and ridicule others online. It’s a whole new world where hypocrisy, internal contradictions and lapses in logic are overlooked. Where it’s not about the strength of your argument, but about how scornful and sarcastic you can be when you make it.
Debates and differences of opinion are to be expected and encouraged, they make life interesting. Personally I love them enough to make my living out of them. What we should not expect, what we should be completely intolerant of, is uncalled for cruelty in that commentary. Whether or not you agreed with Sita, every single one of the points in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” could have been made without being malicious. While I do not know who the writer of that letter is, I know that whoever they are, they have feelings, and they have a family. Ask yourself if this is the way you would like someone you loved to be treated, even if they publicly expressed an opinion that you disagreed with.
I have no doubt that writing this will re-focus ire and indignation on me. I don’t generally engage in this sort of discussion, preferring to be positive, but I believe in the courage of my convictions, and probably more importantly, I believe that I was raised in a culture where we don’t sit idly by and ignore, or worse applaud, an ignominious attack. So I am saying something and, since from what I have seen we are acting like we are in our own personal version of the movie ‘Mean Girls’, let me use that type of language, anyone who wants to say anything to me or about me can-“Bring it!” Paradoxically, you will only be proving my point.