He kokonga whare e kitea, he tangata pātuhi e kore e kitea

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The mana of kanohi kitea, the physically seen face seems to be lost by the social media obsessed generations of today.

As with many concepts of te ao Māori that have evolved throughout the ages, so too has that of kanohi kitea. Often used to describe the presence of those on the marae we can now apply it to everyday life and no, I don’t mean turning your camera on for Zoom hui so we can see your face. Kanohi kitea is not just about showing up anymore, it is about taking responsibility for your words, your actions and not hiding behind a keyboard with a picture of your dog protecting your identity.

Scrolling through Instagram and Facebook every 10 minutes has become a less than ideal habit for the majority of Gen Xs, Millennials and Gen Zs, especially in the current climate of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, it doesn’t take long before you stumble across a classic “white font story” of someone you follow feeling the need to defend their actions in this international crisis. Whether it be an A- list celeb making headlines for posting pre-quarantine pics without the appropriate *ThiS wAs TakeN bEfoRe LoCkDowN* hashtag or an influencer in Auckland defending herself for taking her young kids with her into the supermarket. It seems that everybody and their mum have become the faceless judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the way that people live their lives.

Don’t get it twisted, the anonymous critics aren’t just living in social media posts. You will rarely find an article (with comments turned on of course) on a mainstream media website (Stuff, I’m looking at you) that doesn’t have a ‘Sportsguy97’ or a ‘myNamesNotKaren’ pouring Hatorade™ all over the comments section. 

A standout example of this judgement has been towards quarantine exemptions granted to some people returning to Aotearoa from overseas. Many people have returned to be with loved ones who are approaching the end of their lives, some given only weeks to live. Those who have been granted exemptions are now facing public backlash for being selfish and putting others’ lives at risk. Why is it wrong for Sally from Southland to want to see her dying mother? Is it so hard to put ourselves in her shoes? Even if the exemption was not granted, would I be able to live with myself knowing that I didn’t try everything in my power to make it happen? No. So why judge someone who is experiencing that pain? If the Ministry of Health has deemed it acceptable then why can’t we?

When did we as a society decide that it is more important to have an opinion on strangers’ lives than it is to be kind? This has been a rising issue over the last couple of decades with the advancement of the information highway. Online interconnected-ness and oversharing has become the new norm, but with the whole world forced to spend an extended period of time indoors with nobody to talk to except their plants, it has festered into a deeper issue. It seems that we can no longer have fleeting thoughts and opinions without hurriedly typing them out and hitting that share button without even spell checking that 140-character tweet. We have all the time in the world to scroll, get offended, post, repeat and yet no time to sit with our thoughts or get in touch with our inner empath.

Jiddu Krishnaurti once said “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence”.  I guess that means we’re all dumb. But also, if you are gonna judge me… do it to my face.

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