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Pipe Down and Do Your Job

Institutions don't always need to take a stance


Since the dawn of instant news, television, and particularly social media, a strange phenomenon has gripped public figures and institutions: an urge to insert and implicate themselves ‘into the conversation’ of the day, and a conviction that it is their role to do so. They are wrong and must realise that much.

 

I’ve always found that the notion of social media making public figures of all of us over-generalises the situation. Rather, it has allowed those who crave publicity to spread their opinions and has created a social pressure to which many obey — that of relaying information. Consequently, the internet has become a vehicle of outrage. When an event used to create outrage, some would publish articles or go on television to do an interview. Unless directly impacted by the event, the ordinary person would perhaps join in the conversation only if it was deemed important enough, and by doing something concrete about it. Nowadays, when something causes outrage, someone will post something on social media, and — because it costs nothing to do so, or (more cynically) people wish to virtue-signal — others will repost it. The result is a general sense of outrage in a given community, in reaction to constant events, and the nature of social media creates a skewed overestimation both of the scale of the outrage and the strength of conviction of the outraged.


Because of this constant succession of uproars, organisations have started feeling the need to react, to avoid that terrifying phenomenon: of being ‘cancelled’. They now even feel it is their role and duty to react. It simply isn’t. If you are a representative of a university, a company, a public institution, or any other organisation not directly impacted by, or involved in, a given event, it is not your role to express beliefs or take a side, particularly if the side you are taking will be divisive within the group which you represent.


Rector Stella Maris is the St Andrean incarnation of this overstepping the mark, of misjudging the situation and tragically misunderstanding one’s role. In November, she sent out an email regarding the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza, in which she clearly expressed her personal beliefs regarding the situation. This was an abuse of position. Firstly, she did not have to react, because she is the rector of a university — not a head of government or other public figure whose understanding of the situation is important to hear. Secondly, if she felt genuinely compelled to react, nothing gave her the right to ‘pick a side’. She represents a student body composed, in part, of people directly affected by the situation on both sides. She therefore knew she would cause pain. She expressed her opinion, to which she is entitled to as a private individual, but which, as a public figure whose role is not to divide but rather to unite, she is not entitled to express publicly.

 

The point of this article is not to berate our rector, but rather to show how misguided institutions and the people who represent them are in this. They must learn to restrain themselves, not only from releasing statements ‘picking sides’ in debates which don’t directly involve them, but more generally from considering it to be their role to give any reaction or commentary to events happening on the global stage, whatever their importance.


In the case of Stella Maris, our rector’s overt partisanship necessitated a reaction from the school for damage control. Generally, there is no need for the University to comment on events, however violent or emotional. The University is not political; its voice with regard to global events is irrelevant beyond the school community, within which it must be used very sparingly for non-controversial uses.

 

It’s time for companies, institutions, and the people who work and represent them, to reconsider their place. They need to realise that many nasty situations could be avoided by not expressing their opinions. They need to pipe down and focus on their principal duty, educational or any other, rather than trying to be relevant in public discourse. Save everyone the time and energy.


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