Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Value of a Few Forgotten Virtues: Katie McHugh and Modern Millennials

Reporter Katie McHugh has a big problem. It isn't, as she might imagine, that her voice has been silenced.

McHugh was fired - according to her - by conservative online news-site Breitbart, when in the aftermath of tragic terror attacks in London she posted to Twitter what some consider "racist" remarks. As usual, the liberal Left screams "racist" when anything inflammatory is posted toward the Muslim community - "Muslim" not being a "race", notwithstanding.

This tweet started it all:
McHugh objects that she was simply stating the truth (as she sees it). Funny thing is, on its surface, if one considers it from a purely logical point of view, it is true. But unfortunately McHugh inores the obvious fact that, in a culture that has assimilated Muslims for centuries - and only recently has a radical jihadist issue terrorized the nation - you can't demand that all Muslims be eliminated from the population. I have to believe she understood her own irony, and was using the hyperbole to make a more forceful point.

But McHugh is an employee of a major news outlet that has a reputation to protect. Breitbart is not a government-funded organization. She doesn't work for a publicly-owned entity. This is where McHugh's immaturity catches up with her: her employer has every right to set standards for their employees, and particularly for those who are most visible to the public and working for a communications outlet. I would argue that although she might consider her Twitter account private, she is a voluntary public personality, and as such represents her employer and should consider their image as well as her own when tweeting.

Strangely, McHugh is as much a product of her age group as are the millennials who pontificate screaming into the faces of their educational and intellectual superiors, on college campuses. This sense of intellectual arrogance that young adults possess is alarming - not only because it is so distasteful to the rest of us, but because it is so counterproductive to successful navigation into and through adulthood. Believing that your own beliefs are infallible and unchangeable, is perhaps common to every young generation. But the current one seems particularly arrogant and definitely far more militantly vocal about it, and far less able to measure their own words.

I wonder what the dynamics are. Does the advent of social media and the opportunity to get up on one's soapbox and scream at strangers, with no real correction or accountability or consequence, help to form minds that never question themselves? Is it that we have raised a few generations of kids now that were only hesitantly told "No!" or only occasionally corrected, or maybe never told to be silent in the presence of adults or others who knew more than they did? Is it that their high school teachers and college professors model behavior that is intolerant of other points of view?  Is it a mix of all these things?

The notion of humility as a virtue, in the traditional understanding of that word, is something that needs to be revived. How many modern parents would even know what that word means? How many young adults do?  At its most basic, Humility is an ability to see your own abilities and worth beside those of other people, and accept those things others do better than you do, as well as your strengths. It is a realistic sense of yourself, including your intellectual capacity and your possible lack of insight or life experience. It may be argued that true humility better enables a person to appreciate others, and also to appreciate his or her own unique contribution.

Humility is beneficial first to the one who cultivates it within himself. When internalized as a virtue, it encourages a person to stop and consider the limitations of her or his own opinion, before publicizing it and facing embarrassment. Or loss of the respect of others. Or firing.

McHugh has posted some good pieces at Breitbart, and she may even have some interesting ideas and valid points to make. But she lacks the humility to consider the limitations of her own voice and experience, and the humility that might have caused her to stop and measure her words more carefully, before she hanged herself with them.

At present, she is loudly protesting her firing quite publicly. I wonder if she has considered how unprofessional or fit for another news position that makes her appear? No one hires a troublemaker, after all.  With all the typical recklessness of today's millennial, she rages about, decrying her own victimhood without considering how doing so will harm her. Regardless of how she feels about it, or whether Breitbart was right or wrong - the truth is that Breitbart did what any private employer can. I hope that McHugh received some warning before this happened, or at least had been given in the past some idea of the expected employee conduct as regards social media and other public communications. But whether this happened or not, McHugh can't control what Breitbart has done, while she can control the conduct she chooses for herself from this point on.

McHugh's tweets lacked tastefulness. They were obviously intentionally provocative, and I think she meant them to be sardonic and even funny. They weren't. They fell flat because they danced too close to meanness and unfairness, and lacked tact, good taste, and common sense. They came from a young mind that hasn't yet learned the value of temperance, the benefit of humility. A statement being true isn't all that matters: the truth of it has to be weighed against the necessity and fairness of it and any fallout that may result from its being voiced.

From the looks of things so far, McHugh may be too much a product of her own generation to exercise much of those virtues - temperance, fairness and humility - in the near future. And in that, she has much in common with other millennials who lack that subtlety of understanding that leads to the kind of nuanced communication skills which would earn them the respect they so loudly - and too often undeservedly - demand.

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