Letter to the Editor | Plastic straws and public shaming

Dear editor,

Today, while transporting my own daughter to school following her lunch break, I had the displeasure to observe a middle aged man deride a group of secondary school students from a local girls school as they were exiting a supermarket sipping on drinks with plastic straws.   

What stood out to me was how intentional the public shaming was despite the obvious, nearly cliché, power dynamics at play. 

The man, having chosen to use English after he recognized the school the girls attend, effectively mansplained to a small group of girls with exaggerated shock and feigned outrage to the apparent horrible choice of using plastic straws.

While it is certainly a noble deed to minimize one’s impact on the environment, it seems that these noble deeds are being hijacked by groups and individuals that seem to take public shaming as a preferred means to inspire change.

However, this couldn’t be a more terrible tactic, whether it is targeting people online or in person. Shaming, after all, comes at a price as it can leave lasting impressions and terrible scars to the psyche.

The issue of plastic straws, when compared to the whole of plastic pollution is negligible, accounting for only 0.02 percent of all ocean pollution by weight.

While doing one’s part is important in reducing plastic pollution, is it so important to single out others and shame them openly in the effort to change minds?

This act is quite heinous particularly when one shames without considering the hypocrisy of their own plastic use.

The gentleman that spoke out certainly had to be aware of the plastics contained in his own shoes, clothing, sports watch and spectacle frames before attempting to pass judgement on these young girls. Or perhaps he committed the all too common human error of prejudice, which so often leads to a bout of foot-in-mouth syndrome.

As we navigate this increasingly divisive world and as we try to make it better, it would behoove all of us to remember one thing: “It’s chaos, be kind” (Patton Oswalt quoting his wife Michelle McNamara in Annihilation). After all, not only do we have to live in the world we make, we have to be able to live with each other.

Luke Lienau

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