Self-righteous attacks on others cause more harm to self

A Surfer in the waves at East London's Eastern beach ahead of the cold and stormy weather expected to hit Eastern Cape
A Surfer in the waves at East London's Eastern beach ahead of the cold and stormy weather expected to hit Eastern Cape

“This year’s been crazy, man.” The surfer shifted his board to the left, grabbing for some sun in the dawn chill of daily searches for the perfect wave.

“People at each other’s throats 24/7.

“I go into the water to get away from the hate.”

We had been chatting about social media, politics and Covid-19, and how he used to love apps and his Instagram page, but wanted out for a while, as all the “global stuff” was making his head ache.

I’ve never been too fussed about fermenting news stories that dominate headlines, simply because I’m used to it, being in the industry.

I don’t get emotional about it and move on if it’s tiresome, bothersome or deliberately scaremongering.

Sometimes, I’ll counter what I read or hear with a different opinion, though always in the spirit of truth, reconciliation and shared debate.

But for the pure of heart, like a surfer, there’s something to be said for shutting up, refusing to engage and holding oneself in check — traits sorely lacking in today’s smash-and-grab, trigger-happy online narrative.

“It’s like that Trump, the American president oke, he’s not my vibe,” explained the surfer, “but there’s so much sh*t going down about him and his family, with him being sick.

“And I was thinking, freak, it feels like mob mentality, you know?

“That messes with my vibe more than the political stuff does, hey.”

We agreed that vitriol — bitterly harsh or caustic criticism — was a no-go for general health and happiness.

It doesn’t take a good surf to figure that out.

Poet John Milton said: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven” — so perhaps that’s the key to why we’re so at risk of immense personal harm when we’re self-righteously launching attacks on others.

Kevin Jones of agrees.

With the growing dominance of social media, is the herd mentality to become “a permanent fixture in our daily lives?”, he asks.

The concept of herd mentality (or mob mentality) is most prominent during times of social crisis and is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong”.

The surfer — an apolitical, chilled guy — was alarmed by the violence and aggression of the death wishes against Donald Trump following his Covid-19 diagnosis; not because he liked Trump (“Don’t think he surfs, dude!”), but because of the ‘hive mind’, ferocious feeding frenzy he saw driving it.

From the Salem witch trials of several hundred years ago, to the often tragic consequences of mob justice, we need to be acutely aware of the very thin divide between civilisation and wanton chaos.

Clinical psychologist Joanna Kleovoulou, founder and director of PsychMatters Centre, says holding onto hate is like “letting someone live rent-free in your mind”.

The effects of feeling hatred over a long period of time can have “devastating effects” on your mind and body, she says, with research showing how hatred changes brain chemistry, eventually leading us to act aggressively when feeling hateful — either to defend or as an attack.

In the long run, the hormonal hate-fest impacts negatively, contributing to weight gain, insomnia, anxiety, depression and chronic illness, she says.

Even more worrying is that facts don’t change minds, particularly if people are fuelled by their own personal biases, feelings and life circumstances, Jeanne Croteau of says.

This means that eventually, once a world of haters is fuelled up and ready to go, little is likely to stop them — and social media platforms are the perfect storm.

“Ja, that’s how it is,” the surfer sighed, pointing his board towards the tide.

“I just say to the laaities, stay off your phones; don’t believe everything you read, hey.

“Things always look up after a surf.”

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