A Great Fire From a Little Spark

So,  are we over the hysterical hissy-fit sparked by the incredible discovery by righteous mass media that Elizabeth May can’t walk on water and can cuss with best of us in moments when the tongue races ahead of courtesy – and reason?

I hope so because her few minutes tumble from her grace and favour pedestal was hardly the stuff of great moment despite the reaction of so many professional commentators and writer’s of letters to editors to make it sound cataclysmic.

Was she out of line when she became critically serious at what was supposed to be a fun event at which politicians and media people can drink too much and fire off clever put-downs at political rivals? Of course she was. She used the opportunity to launch a clumsily delivered critique of Prime Minister Harper and, as she was hooked from the microphone, carelessly tossed in the vulgar reference to his “fucking cabinet.”

Media outlets never use that word or at least never spell it. As defenders of free speech and staunch advocates of Voltaire’s – “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” –  they primly print  f..k, f…..g or the sanctimonious “F-bomb”, presumably believing it is good manners to leave reader or listeners to fill in the dots.

Media reaction to May’s outburst was inexcusable. By swearing in public she had become a front page story, the text of her rambling unimportant speech published verbatim with editorials panting to lead the electronic gossip-mongering pack baying for punishment. That May had apologized for her bad behavior was not enough. The outraged wanted more starting with her resignation as leader of the Green Party because by their standards she couldn’t be trusted to behave as they think a political party leader should.

A few hundred years ago those who went “ viral” with such little cause would have been locking her in the stocks on the lawns of the Legislature or giving her a few hours in the (no-need-for-dots) Cucking Stool, a device, Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable  informs me, used to punish disorderly women by plunging them in and out of the village pond.

Among the amazing displays of media virtue was the pious warning on the CBC website posting May’s speech verbatim with the advisory: “Warning; graphic language.” It’s the same warning we get when networks show us pictures and reports from earthquake zones, train derailments – and other disasters; the same warning they flash on screen anytime they are about to display the latest graphics of murder, mayhem, and plain old punching and kicking violence, all well laced with explicit sexual activities – and swearing. If we watch and become seduced by the abandonment of what were once common courtesies, and normal moral standards the fault, apparently, is entirely our own. Profit making producers and distributors are excused from all responsibility for any damage the constant flood of violence might create.

Forgetting old standards of conduct is not new. We are just lowering the bar of courtesy and good behavior more rapidly and carelessly in this age where speed appears to be of the essence in everything – including conversations and condemnations based on flimsy reasoning.

It’s a few thousand years now since one of the leaders of a then struggling bunch of men and women trying to establish a new religion with high moral standards, warned the greatest threats to their future would be words spoken in haste or anger; thoughts expressed without care and little or no regard for the damage they could cause. The tongue, he said, may appear to be an insignificant part of the human body “but it is immensely boastful. Remember how a mere spark may set a vast forest in flames.” It was, he said, “an ever busy mischief. And full of deadly poison.”

Elizabeth May should have known that before she, whether tired or having thought a glass of wine would be friend, plunged recklessly into her unwarranted tirade. But so should those who rose so quickly to condemn her bad decision with even worse, undeserved, judgments. They had the sounds of hounds baying on the hunt to bring down a  pack leader.

As the wise man noted, when saying things in public or in private “we often stumble and fall, all of us.” And, he added, anyone who doesn’t would be perfect. Elizabeth May isn’t. I certainly don’t rate. And you?

(Best piece written so far on the May incident by Elizabeth Renzetti, Page A2, Globe and Mail, Saturday, May 16, 2015. Brilliant. Wish I could write like that)


  1. A reasoned analysis Jim. This morning CBC Radio’s Michael Enright read a good essay on the event, “The Mugging of Elizabeth May.” He agrees the press has gone overboard.

  2. Thanks, Jim for what I consider to be a very balanced analysis of the “ Elizabeth May” incident. I happen to have a very good opinion of the lady. But I try to keep her off a pedestal. I expect in due course she will, in my view, make others. I will try to weigh them to help ensure my bias in her favour has not blind sided me!! Cheers, and keep up the good work. Al Pelter Jim Hume: Sent: Saturday, May 16, 2015 8:15 PM To: apelter@shaw.ca Subject: [New post] A Great Fire From a Little Spark

    theoldislander posted: “So, are we over the hysterical hissy-fit sparked by the incredible discovery by righteous mass media that Elizabeth May can’t walk on water and can cuss with best of us in moments when the tongue races ahead of courtesy – and reason? I hope so because h”

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