It’s easy to think that there is little harm in the recent kerfuffle around the couple filmed having sex at the office and its subsequent explosion through social media to a worldwide audience. To think that would be utterly wrong.
This is not a bit of fun. They did not get what they deserved. The extent of their humiliation and permanent damage to their lives, both now and in the future, is such that it is the kind of punishment one might expect to be meted out to a convicted paedophile, or worse.
The other day, I watched a stressed out guy in a large, flash car struggling to parallel park. He made every possible error of distance, angle and speed of approach in a tortuous display that lasted several minutes. It would have made great television. It would have been a clip that had the potential to entertain millions on social media, and provided us all with a great laugh and a bit of fun. Some might also argue he would have got what he deserved; after all, if he can’t drive a car, what’s he doing on the road? And let’s face it, the guy was clearly well off, and who would pass up a chance to have a laugh at one of those fat cats, struggling in an expensive car he could afford, but couldn’t drive.
If I had decided to put the guy in his place, filmed his unfortunate escapade and stuck it on social media, would he have deserved the public humiliation that would have come his way? What does it say about someone who gets a kick from sharing another’s moment of private angst with the entire world for the sake of a laugh?
When the first footage of the Christchurch earthquake emerged, I vividly remember a clip where someone was filming the wreckage on a mobile phone. Suddenly visible in the shot is the lower half of a human body, clad in everyday clothes, the rest obscured under a pile of rubble. A nearby bystander yelled at the cameraman “Hey, have some respect!” The shocked cameraman immediately turned his phone off.
If you have to, watch those who choose to share their lives – warts and all – on reality television. If you have to, have a secret laugh at those who unintentionally expose moments of their private life to you. But to decide that it is your right to then take that moment – unintentionally shared – from them, and provide it to the world to gawp over is to put yourself among a truly distasteful selection of humanity. For to do so is to assume you have some form of ownership over that person’s life and their future, because you know in sharing that moment, you will have changed their life forever.
That the couple were betraying the trust of people with whom they share their lives is no business of ours, and certainly not the entire audience of social media; just as all the little mistakes, dishonesties and screw-ups that we all commit are between us and our conscience. To believe that we have the right to play the role of the conscience of other people is something any mature person would have learned a long time ago to be the peak of hubris.
But the real harm of an incident like this isn’t just to the victims; it is also to ourselves. We are all targets now.
So next time you are struggling to park the car, spare a thought for the unlucky couple at Marsh and Co, and hope the people around you don’t believe your misfortune is something that can be sold or shared.