Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When Social Media, Opinions and Politics Collide

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance. - Plato

Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance. – Hippocrates

Ahhhhh, the #nlpoli (Newfoundland politics) hashtag has lit up once again as Newfoundlanders find their three favorite religions; social medial, sharing opinions and politics colliding or colluding (take your pick).

As a Newfoundlander myself, I don’t know of any culture that does it with as much passion as Newfoundlanders do, to their compliment as well as to their detriment, and for this reason, one has to be careful whenever venturing out into the final frontier that is sharing one’s opinion in that great Province.

A Progressive Conservative candidate in the upcoming provincial election, Tina Olivero, has now learned this full well although she should have been aware of the potential for complexity having lived in the Province a good part of her Life.  The CBC covers the controversy here - Tory candidate Tina Olivero draws Twitter ire after health comments.

In a small #nlpoli explosion, Ms. Olivero made some pretty disturbing claims this week regarding the power of positive thinking and mental wellness to potentially cure cancer, epilepsy and the like.  In a world where beating the tar out of people on social media has become a global sport, she was immediately beset upon by the Twitterverse with a cacophony of taunts and insults.

Premier Davis, when asked about her comments replied in typical politician fashion – that his cancer was cured by chemotherapy but that there are others who believe that a strong mental outlook can cure disease.  He then went on to make a correlation that veterans of wars died so that people like Ms. Olivero could share such opinions.

Personally, while I believe in the power of positive thinking to a certain degree, if I get very ill, I prefer the power of positive science accompanied by positive thinking (in that order).  Ms. Olivero had to know that expressing her controversial opinions would elicit a venomous response from people, both inside and outside of the medical field.  In particular, people who struggle with mental illness or who have survived cancer, are going through it or have loved ones going through it will no doubt be made to feel angry or insulted by such suggestions.  As someone who has overcome much myself, both by illness and by accident, I can only shake my head and hope that people don’t lose their money or their lives following such beliefs.

Ms. Olivero has also expressed to people in the past that she believes (or believed, I don’t know her current belief system) that she is one of ten prophets as identified in books about Urantia, an alleged new age concept where extraterrestrial forms are channelling positive news to people on Earth.

Are these things normal?

I don’t know – whose definition of normal do you wish to embrace?

I read the Bible daily.  For as many people who applaud me, there are an equal number (or more) who would condemn such “silly activities by an intelligent man”.

I believe that there may be a case to support the fact that extraterrestrials may have visited (or are visiting the earth).   There are many who would tell me that this is crazy also and are only too happy to tell me.

Again, I ask you – what do we define as normal?

The reality is that the beliefs she has expressed are her own opinions.  While they may not be evidenced-based and may in fact be potentially dangerous if one embraces them, most of us know enough about the world to not blindly follow them so why are we getting so venomous about them as if they have directly impacted us? 

Most of us know the difference between the range of opinions in the world that vary from the normal to the mentally ill or illegal, understanding when to agree, when to disagree, when to ignore them and when to report them to the authorities. Appropriate responses to opinions (including type and level of emotion expended) commensurate with the opinions themselves in large part show others who we are – many forget this and reveal their own challenges (or ignorance) in an effort to crush someone else (even if for the right reasons).

If I looked over the Twitterverse with an eye to finding what I perceive to be outrageous, insulting or downright insane opinions, I could spend the rest of my Life being insulted.  #nlpoli alone could keep me thus entertained forever, likely to the detriment of my mental and physical well-being.  Meanwhile, the person who owns the opinion I disagree with would continue to live their Lives unaffected by my thoughts on their beliefs.

As for Premier Davis, he took the politician’s way out.  His diluted response when asked about her, both condemning her and condoning her, with a reference to the ultimate sacrifice of veterans, was weak, disappointing and typically right down the middle.  He implied that veterans died so that we could say and do whatever we want.  I beg to differ, believing that they made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live a Life that contributes to a better world, not one that detracts from the world or adds confusion to it.  If I follow his line of thinking, they may have died so that I could be a criminal. 

Sorry, Premier Davis, I am a literalist – the right to express an opinion (or take an action as a result of an opinion) is fine as long as it doesn’t intentionally harm others mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially UNLESS the person being “harmed” is in fact being stopped because they are harming others.

It is important that one’s opinions and beliefs about such things be known when offering one’s self for public service.  Once those opinions are generally known, should other people strongly disagree with them, then the people in disagreement should save their energy for a greater calling – the expression of their opinion by way of the ballot box.

The Bottom Line

Ms. Olivero has shared opinions that appear to not be grounded in science or reality.

While I strongly disagree with her beliefs, I would suggest that few of us would have the courage to share our own opinions and convictions in such a public way nor are we all as perfectly normal as we define normality to be as we destroy others from the safety, distance and anonymity of our laptop, tablet or smart phone.

Premier Davis has offered a weak response to questions about Ms. Olivero’s opinions.

Both have spoken and revealed elements of their beliefs.

That is their right.

If you don’t like it, express your opinion at the ballot box.

That is your right.

In doing so, you won’t need to be offended by either anymore.

In service and servanthood,


PS No matter how wonderful, relevant and important an opinion may appear to be, the one who expresses the opinion must always be cognizant of how the opinion will be received and therefore must accept all feedback, whether it be praise or condemnation.  No one can ever claim to be a victim when feedback is less than desirable for such feedback should have been anticipated before the opinion was offered.

Addendum – Maturity in Light of Feedback- November 18, 2015

Ms. Olivero was tweeting videos tonight, taunting people who took umbrage with her previously stated opinions.  Such exchanges are not helpful or mature, especially for the person whose opinions ignited the initial firestorm.  Here is an example (unless she deletes it) where she is taunting a person who recently lost a loved one to cancer.  Almost simultaneously, she posted this video (unless deleted) saying people shouldn’t take pot shots at each other. <<Author note – November 19, 2015: Ms. Olivero has deleted both videos.  Both can be seen here: PC candidate Tina Olivero addresses 'Twitter hate flurry'>>

Her Twitter bio says “Everyone is a leader. We don't need to be fixed, we need collective intelligence!”  It goes to show that chanting a mantra and living it can be difficult things to accomplish simultaneously.

Premier Davis cut her a break today and she took advantage of it, further condemning both of them. 

True character is revealed when weak leadership is present.

Final Chapter – Ms. Olivero Resigns – November 19, 2015

An interesting moment in Newfoundland and Labrador politics comes to a close with Ms. Olivero removing herself from the current election process.

Her lengthy resignation letter is at the bottom of this post.  It is intriguing how she doesn’t acknowledge any of her contribution to the events that transpired, how 3 of her 4 key points are directed towards “the media” and how it seems that this is everyone else’s fault that she has to step down.  No other analysis is necessary at this point.

This is her opinion.

She is entitled to it.

Ironically, she posted this photo on her Facebook wall a few days ago.

There may be something anti-climactic in this picture in regards to how her resignation reads.

It is time for people to move on and to allow her to resume her Life.

Her resignation letter follows:

I am stepping down as the Candidate for St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi.

After two weeks of campaigning it has become very clear that expressing my views on current issues has a massive impact in the political arena.

Mental wellness is a very serious issue and a person’s health and well being may include many approaches.

My view of wellness "includes" self awareness and that view has prompted the hate mail and backlash that has occurred in the last 48 hours online and in the media.

I have tried to explain that my words were taken out of context and in some cases, words were quoted that I didn’t say at all.

The media invitations to speak up on this matter have been declined because I believe that my words would be further misconstrued. So last night I addressed the situation in the best way possible through a controlled environment with my Facebook post entitled “My Story”.
With "My Story", I hoped the media frenzy would calm down and I could continue to campaign and focus on the people of my district.

That was not the case.

Today I was emailed by a reporter who has gone through my past with the hopes of discrediting me and plans to release his findings tomorrow.

This is the indicator that the environment for leadership in public service needs an entire new structure when it comes to media.

It’s time to clean up our own back yard and that starts with holding some of the media to account - NOT ALL media but some!

For these reasons I have chosen to step down:

1. The media is not in control of our outcomes and I am not prepared to be held hostage by any media - such as the email of the reporter today planning to "expose" me.

2. Stepping into a political campaign should not entail scrutiny with a targeted intent to harm - from the public or from the media.

3. Those campaigning for leadership roles should not have to put themselves, their families or their businesses at risk - emotionally, financially or in any other way.

4. We as a people, should not accept that media has power over us.

We get what we tolerate.

When we allow these incidences to happen we are the makers of our own demise.

A climate of no leadership is crippling because those who could best serve us will most likely never do so because of the type of experiences I have just encountered.

Worse than that it is unacceptable that a person's way of life, beliefs and ideas are used against them to support a “tweeter” or reporters’ bias, improve ratings, viewership or engagement.

I simply don't accept it because, this is not who we are.

A wise man once said, if you continue to dig up dirt eventually you will lose your ground. Today the media, social media, and our leadership culture overall has lost ground.

I sincerely wish all our candidates and parties in the provincial election, the very best.

Tina Olivero


  1. Harry - I think everyone should be free to believe as they choose - as long as they don't hurt anyone else. Believe your a man from mars for all I care! That being said I have battled depression for 20 odd years. And you know what? I'm a pretty normal human being. (whatever normal is). I go to work, I laugh, I socialize, I walk my dog i care for my elderly father - but every now and then - usually every couple of years - the depression gets me. And it's bad. I'm sure you know what depression is and I won't explain it but let me get to my point - for years me - and people like me - have fought the stigma around depression. It is a physical illness. My brain is not firing as it should, I don't have enough chemical in there and it's not just a 'bad mood'. And when you're in a depressed state the stigma that surrounds it is one more painful layer to deal with. When every bone in your body hurts and you can't look in the mirror because you hate yourself so much and you really believe everyone in your life would be better off without you around the LAST thing anyone needs is for someone to say - you just need to be more self aware!

    This is putting blame on those who are ill and giving those who have never experienced this insidious black cloud of torment pause to question whether or not they really can just 'snap out of it'.

    I hope you will see I am not attacking anyone personally - I am saying that comments like these are not helpful, but hurtful. I am not offended - I am bewildered. Why on earth - with all we know about mental illness - would someone say that becoming more self aware can cure your illness. Where are her credentials? What research has she done?

    No sir I have fought long and hard these past years to bring awareness to mental illness and depression. I have been very open about my illness and have been a shoulder and an ear to many who could not because they could not bear to be judged.

    These comments are not acceptable and saying them is in no way courageous.

    1. Hi Lorna,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your first sentence 100% - this should be a governing rule for all of us to do as much as we can while not hurting people intentionally.

      I also understand why you would feel insulted as you express. Truthfully, if I experienced what you are experiencing, I might feel insulted as well.

      The difficulty is that if we choose to be offended by people who share such views, we will discover that there are thousands of them (or millions of them) and so in focusing on them, we lose sight of the great person that we are because we get caught up in how someone else attempts to define who / how / why / what we are.

      And that forms the crux of my point - if we believe someone else is ignorant in specific areas, we should set them aside and move on lest we let their ignorance overrun us. That is, of course, unless the ignorant opinion is one that directly affects us (for example - if someone who shared an opinion as Ms. Olivero shared suddenly became the Minister of Health and started closing hospitals to support their beliefs).

      Championing mental health issues is important and it matters. Thank you for being one of those champions.

      Create a great day.


  2. Harry you make a great point. As you mentioned in your blog in these days of social media it is so easy to get caught up in a`n online slagging match that helps no one. I try to police myself in that way by making sure when I sign up for any news site - ie. CBC - I use my real name. That way I can't hide behind an anonymous monikor and not be held responsible for my comments. I don't think that's fair and I think everyone should have to use their real name. It would stop a lot of online abuse!

    For me - I will generally comment when I think maybe I can make someone understand why that statement needs to be looked at again. But - you're right. We also need to pick our battles so that we have enough energy to do what we set out to do.

    It's great to have these conversations in a positive and respectful way! I really appreciate that! Thanks for your comments as well! It's been great to 'chat' with you!

    1. Thanks for your kindness, Lorna, and for taking the time to reach back to me. :-)

      Create a great day!