Yesterday I read an extremely unpleasant email chain among young women. I felt physically sick. Today I read stories about cyber bullying on Facebook that led to two girls being asked to leave a Sydney school.
In considering these two events I want to make a very small number of points.
In the past people could and did say very nasty things. Others were hurt, some permanently. Yet, with time, the damage eased on both sides.
This no longer happens. These events coarsen the fabric of society. They also inflict permanent damage on perpetrator and victim. This comes about because of the very speed and visibility of the communication.
The answer does not lie in law or regulation, the usual answer of our modern society. The answer lies in part in reinstatement of the role of manners.
Manners are designed to govern relations between imperfect human beings. They reduce the damage done by our own imperfections. Manners take many forms depending on the society. In all cases, the role is the same.
Part of the answer lies in the once understood Christian concept of redemption, the capacity of people to redeem themselves. Once a person is condemned for ever by an act including words, then redemption is irrelevant.
I was bullied. I have spoken of this. At no stage have I mentioned names. This is not a fear of libel. I still know many of these people. They are not now as they were then. To drag up my past pain and then attach it to names would do damage to others. Two wrongs do not make a right.
We cannot turn the world back to pre-internet days. We have to focus on how we manage this in social, not legal, terms. This is hard , I think, because Australia as a society no longer has the intellectual and moral framework to do so.