Friday 15 November 2019

Harassment is not comedy, so stop targeting our First Citizen

Lampooning of our President is nothing short of toxic bullying, says Mark Patrick Hederman

Michael D Higgins wrote to President Francois Hollande to express his condolences
Michael D Higgins wrote to President Francois Hollande to express his condolences

Mark Patrick Hederman

For some time now our President, Michael D Higgins, has been the subject of supposed humorous sketches - by RTE radio and television; at a prestigious concert in the National Concert Hall; and, last month, in this newspaper's LIFE magazine.

The idea that every home in Ireland should be subjected to this supposedly humorous depiction of the President, his wife and his assistant, Kevin McCarthy, seems to me to be a scandal that should cause shame to us all. This is no less than bullying and harassment in the workplace, which we are trying to phase out at every other level, but when it comes to the President and his wife, we seem to imply they are fair game.

Such lampooning of our President, his wife, and his assistant can no longer pass as entertainment. It enters the abusive area of 'slagging' which we are trying to eliminate from our schools throughout the country, from social media and the internet as an almost unstoppable plague.

Such personal insult can no longer be considered 'comedy', it has descended way below acceptable levels on that barometer. It is nothing less than toxic bullying, which is destructive of personality and deforms both its victims and its perpetrators, not to speak of its audience. What is it about us as Irish people that we sniggeringly feed on such dysfunctional humour?

Laughing at someone's height is unacceptable in general, but when it comes to the elected head of State, it enters an area of insult and defamation which undermines the prestige, authority and influence of the person elected to represent us.

The presence and unstinting efforts of both our President and his wife Sabina - who have undergone a punishing schedule of international visits, as well as encouraging appearances all over the country at various events - are of paramount importance to us at this time, and the kind of ungrateful and demeaning coverage we were treated to over the Christmas period is unacceptable.

It drains us and them of much needed energy and enthusiasm and it is corrosive of their self-confidence and self-respect, to the point of preventing them from accomplishing their essential task.

The danger is that in a person with the sensitivity of someone like Michael D Higgins, it induces a sense of disappointment and even disapproval on the part of the public. To make all that effort and push yourself to the edge in an attempt to fulfil the role you have been given by democratic vote, becomes counter-productive, not to say humiliating, when met by a constant barrage of cynical ridicule.

This kind of hectoring commentary and persistent harping upon personal traits, for which no one of us is responsible, gives no encouragement, no sympathy; its only purpose seems to be dismissive and polemical entertainment for the begrudgers.

The hardened cynics might say that having reached the pinnacle of triumph as a president, he should have no more worry about bad press, hostile critics, misunderstanding by the public - that he should be above and beyond all that.

Critics of this bullying kind can stalk a person and paralyse him or her into zero productivity.

We need this President and we don't need this kind of parody.

Mark Patrick Hederman is the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Murroe, Co Limerick

Sunday Independent

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