When young people insult their elders

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“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
– Albert Einstein

I have been on Facebook since 2009, and I can bet that being on social media is a highly rewarding enterprise. The sheer volume of information available on social media, the ease of movement of ideas and the huge traffic of cultured and well-mannered people that we connect with every day on the platform present the enriching side of social media. Social media can also be a huge asset for mobilising people around a worthy cause. Many people still remember the monumental impact of social media in the success of the Arab Spring of 2011. People promoting philanthropic causes today also find social media a blessing in their outreach to millions of people.

But there is another side of social media. Much of social media today is a breeding ground for the dissemination of lies, bad news, scams, pornography and all sorts of obscenities. Some people have read breaking news of their own obituaries on social media when they are still alive. On Facebook, amateurish comedians and wannabe cartoonists have turned humour into a social art for hurting people’s religious sentiments and provoking ethnic prejudices, thereby fanning the embers of hate, bitterness and resentment. Anyone who wishes to retain a vestige of moral sanity will certainly find it an uphill task to safely navigate the murky waters of social media today without being contaminated by the decay of language that has polluted our public vocabulary.

However, the most disturbing aspect of the situation is that many young people today have turned socio-political activism on social media into an art for insulting their elders and for making caricatures of political, religious and traditional leaders. Many years ago, Chinua Achebe argued that if you want to know how orderly and civilised a society is, just watch how people drive on the road. The recklessness and lawlessness that has come to characterise driving on Nigerian roads, seem to me, an apt analogy for the reckless manner in which public discourse is conducted today on social media.

For better or for worse we can now observe the unbridled behaviour of so many people on social media doing indecent things that catch their fancy. The pristine values of discretion and discernment are steadily depleting. The tidal wave of modern information and communication technology has succeeded in sweeping us off our feet. People of all ages now find themselves driving on new technological highways without having the proper formation. If the Internet was already addictive when we were surfing on our desktop at home or on our laptop at work, today we now carry the addiction in our pockets, our smartphones. Interestingly, while everyone is getting a smartphone, the reality of the situation is that not everyone is getting smarter.

The ethical side of the problem is that we are living in a country where there are no common values by which we can all agree on what is right and what is wrong. When you attempt to raise issues with a Nigerian, especially on social media, the tendency is for the real substance of the matter to be lost in the haystack of prejudice. However valid your facts or your arguments, you are quickly labelled as a bigot. It is here that you see how wildly emotive Nigerians can be. The individual may not proffer any superior argument to trump yours, but will simply substitute sound reasoning with verbal gymnastics, casting venomous aspersion on your personality.

In logical reasoning, this fallacy is called “argumentum ad hominem,” a Latin phrase which means responding to arguments by attacking a person’s character, rather than addressing the content of their arguments. This is especially common among people who are intolerant of criticism, and in these days of polarised public discourses, one only needs to follow the trends on social media to get a feel of how much rot and vulgar verbal exchanges have infested our public vocabulary. Thomas Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, was right when he said that in today’s world of social media, “Everybody is connected, and nobody is in control.”

On account of the foul language that has infested cyberspace, many people have refrained from signing on to any interactive social media network. While I understand with this category of people, I have always reasoned that if a writer chooses to opt out of public discourse for fear of bruising his ego or for the sake of maintaining a good reputation, he would be failing in his duty to society. In the same way, if good people refrain from entering into social media, they invariably surrender their responsibility to positively influence the use of these media by allowing the bad people to hijack the system for their banal purposes.

I believe that words are very powerful. They have the capacity to inspire and to uplift, but they also have the capacity to hurt and to denigrate. We, therefore, have a moral obligation to jealousy guard what we write and post on social media. Parents, schools, and religious institutions need to teach our children and young people how to talk sensibly and reasonably. Foul language and reckless public behaviour are evident signs of bad home training, poor civics and the breakdown of a sound ethical culture. In conducting public discourse, we can have good reasons to disagree with our leaders, but we have to do that respectfully. I don’t know how young people will feel if their own biological parents were insulted the way they insult their own leaders on social media. The admonition of Saint Paul in Ephesians 4:29 is therefore, the challenge before us: “Do not let even one bad word come from your mouth, but only good words that will encourage when necessary and be helpful to those who hear you.”

• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.



7 Comments
  • Izeobor

    Thank God Albert Einstein is not breathing today, he would have acknowledged the folly of his statement! Knowledge is a God-given tool which can be used to do good or evil. Albert Einstein as you quoted, participated in an atomic project which will likely wipe out mankind in a matter of minutes, some day. I wished he were living today, probably he would have acknowledged the lofty side of stupidity or ignorance as a virtue. Coming to the substance of Rev. Ojeifo’s article, one of the reasons why some young people may not be respecting some elders in Nigeria, including “reverend gentlemen”, is that the same technology has exposed the deception which most of the so-called elders are. With regard to political elites in Nigeria, the youths have asked the so-called elders(leaders) for fish and they were handed the serpents. I think it is these maligned youths that should ask for apologies from these elders that have robbed the youths of their youthfulness!

  • Efeturi Ojakaminor

    Young people abusing elders? It is a sign of untidy upbringing.

  • Michael

    The quote from Albert Einstein has no relevant bearing to the article in question and as such still remains a valid one in its own context and i find it ridiculous that a Catholic priest could thwart the statements of one who was a proponent of accountability and free speech for his “ass-licking” article.

    As for the article itself, its total bullshit. Respect, in any progressive society, is earned. When our leaders misuse the monies and resources meant for nation building and securing the future of coming generations, when our leaders engage in shameless thievery and immoral and excessive spending of people’s hard earned monies…… you dare tell me they deserve respect by virtue of their grey hairs? That’s total bullshit!

    When the day comes wen they learn to be accountable to the people the “serve”, maybe, just maybe, they will be looked upon as people deserving respect…… till then, i even feel it isn’t enough. They should be stoned anytime they go in public.

    • Daniel Aanuoluwapo Iletogbe

      Hello Michael, I´m not too sure you read the article properly, if however you did, perhaps you didnt internalize… this is exactly what the article repudiates. Argumentum ad hominem. Attack of person. Please relate with the issues raised not the writer. Speaking of the quote by A. EINSTEIN, its clear. Human interaction fosters the cultivation of values n respect. The absence of it in a society breeds decadence. Our knowledge of Sociology brings to fore the fact that it is through our human relations and interactions (socialization) ,that we learn the Dos and Dont of the Society. If we substitute that for what technology offers we are opened to both positive and negative influences… young people may be caught in between the devil and the deep blue sea in trying to take a stand.
      No one has said corrupt leaders should be praised, but there are ways these things are done.
      God Bless you Michael.

      • Michael

        Hi Daniel, I’m sorry i didn’t see your reply sooner. Your reply is quite spot on and is actually true except for the fact that it is contextually inapplicable, secondly, we aren’t dealing with arguments of proof here in which you could raise the issue of Argumentum ad hominem.

        Now about the article, I am not obligated in anyway to play nice when reading bullshit and secondly, when i said i find it ridiculous that a catholic priest should write such an article, i meant just that. I was in no way insulting his person but only remarking on how deplorable the fact that his article considers people lashing out at corrupt leaders something remarkably wrong. His ideas so far are sound and i agree with a good deal of it but when it comes to the area of being a polite social activist in Nigeria (with the massive corruption that has crippled us and destroyed the lives of million?)…. common, that’s absurd.

        Also, from what you wrote, are you saying in essence that technology robs us of proper human interaction? Well, for the very fact that we haven’t met before yet are exchanging ideas through this medium is proof enough that that isn’t true. Also, one thing you should understand is that with or without technology, unpleasantness is a part of human interaction and is bound to be spewed forth from time to time as the situation demands. Long before technology provided an easier means for communication, mankind had always resorted to either violent acts or violent speeches in response to situations that warrant it. So you can’t pin that solely on technology. What technology offers in terms of the positives you mentioned by far outweighs whatever negatives that may arise in the form of “insulting” elders.

        It is only in countries like ours in which we put up facades of respectability that we demand respect by all means. Even the countries we look up to as being models of civilization consider it a sign of respect for free speech that an individual is free to make any remarks about his leaders or elders otherwise it would be the beginnings of a fascist system if people were deprived of their right to speak their minds.

        • Daniel Aanuoluwapo Iletogbe

          Hi Michael. You are very correct in talking about freedom. I for one value it so much and wouldn’t exchange it for all the riches in the world. I have not said ills shouldn’t b pointed out. NO. Am just saying in exercising our freedom, let’s remember that”our freedom to swing our hands ends where another’s nose begins” Ojeifo E. Wrote that article. Can u relate with it as such? Rather than thru the lens of his vocation? 🙂 again, pls note that unpleasantness is not part of human interaction, neither are violent actions n talks. The absence of pleasantness n serenity introduced the ills above into human interaction. The war Ojeifo E is fighting is exactly what we r dealing wt here. We are africans n in our culture it would be rare for a young boy or girl to look into the eye of an elder an insult the elder. The media as made dt a lil easier. Now dont get it twisted, the technology definately has its strength and pitfalls, no doubt. Is dere anything that doesnt? In terms of what Ojeifo E. Talks abt, it has…. well, thats okay. Your points are well noted. Be Blessed
          Rev. Daniel ILETOGBE
          CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ILORIN

  • Innocent Iroaganachi

    The article is a very lovely one. Very similar to the Pope’s 2016 World Day of Communication Message. Thank you so much Fr, for letting us know the truth about the uncritical ways we have been using the social media and relating on the virtual world.

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