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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Megan Poe
Opinion Editor

My name is Megan Poe and I’m an English (writing concentration) and Philosophy double major at Northern. My concurrent experience with being published in and interning for literary magazines has landed...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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Women’s spring soccer comes to an end this weekend
Lily GouinApril 19, 2024

Listen for intent, not words

16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri – HP1EF9N1AIFX9

The words of Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg, 16, have been heard across the globe, at this point. Her wit and passion to speak out against world leaders and politicians have been an example for many people, especially children, and many are beginning to wake up to the idea of climate change, if they weren’t already.

Thunberg made quite the scene at the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit in New York City last month. Her voice and scripted-words stole the hearts of many on both sides of the political spectrum, repeating words like “how dare you?” and “hope.”

As political commentators gathered on air and television to discuss the unforgettable, Swedish Thunberg, one conversation in particular will be just as unforgettable as Thunberg herself. I’m here to argue that it was highly blown out of proportion.

Here’s what happened: American commentator Michael Knowles, was invited on Fox News to discuss Thunberg’s speech. 

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“The climate-hysteria movement is not about science,” Knowles said. “If it were about science, it would be led by scientists rather than by politicians and a mentally-ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international Left.”

This comment was definitely not Michael Knowles’ finest moment. Actually, it was probably one of his worsts, as people expressed their feelings toward what he said by walking out of his Young America’s Foundation (YAF) event last week. The term “mentally ill” stuck out like a sore thumb, leaving his overall message quickly buried. 

Perhaps instead of calling her a “mentally-ill Swedish child,” he could and should have said, “a Swedish 16-year-old girl who has mental health disorders.” Regardless of Knowles’ word choice, he’s correct either way. Thunberg does in fact have Asperger’s which she fortunately sees as a positive thing—a “superpower”—that has been an inspiration to many. But Thunberg also is diagnosed with depression, OCD and anxiety, and it’s this overwhelming fear that has led her to become an activist for climate awareness to begin with. 

Reports are being released regarding Thunberg, some addressing that she dropped out of school at 8 years old because of her difficulty and struggles with sadness and fear, specifically for climate change. The issue hits her differently. Severely. Of course we all want to do what we can in our power to take care of our planet. We’ve faced many obstacles in the past that seemed impossible, but we always figure it out and make it through. That’s why there’s hope. We figure it out. Our worry keeps us motivated to see change. And that is who Thunberg is. But what sets her apart from that scenario is her approach. She cares so much because she is worried sick.

Rather than “mental illness,” the term we should have been focusing on from Knowles’ comment is “exploited.” To exploit something means to use a situation—or a person, in this case—in an unfair or selfish way. Knowles’ intent was to say that the Left, the face of the climate movement, is benefiting unfairly by Thunberg because she is on the autism spectrum, and can therefore be used as a symbol to better enhance their message. Whether this is true or not, an opinion is an opinion, which we are more than allowed to share in this country, thanks to our First Amendment right.

Knowles, in response to “how dare you?” clarified that he is “attacking the Left for exploiting a mentally-ill child.” He was then told to “relax,” and was nicknamed “skinny boy,” but let’s not name-call or anything, right?

A slight change in tone and a quick rephrase of his comment, could and should have been done. The controversy that this brought was highly unnecessary and blown out of proportion due to the lack of picking apart his argument, and taking the term “mentally ill,” and running with it. But the more research that arises about Thunberg and her mental state, the more she will be called a “political pawn,” whether she is or isn’t. Don’t believe me? Look up some videos of her speaking unscripted. 

Fox News went to Twitter and apologized for what was said, calling Knowles’ comment disgraceful and that they have “no plans” to book Knowles, who went to Twitter as well. 

“There is nothing shameful about living with mental disorders. What is shameful is exploiting a child—particularly a child with mental disorders—to advance your political agenda,” Knowles tweeted.

I’m not in support of the words Knowles chose to say, rather, his intent, something that was misinterpreted by many. 

Additionally, I, by no means, view Thunberg as a political pawn. Actually, her passion leads me to believe she’s doing all of this out of her own will. However, I have provided reasons why the idea is not absurd, and the fact she is a child speaking to world leaders should not put her in a spot where criticism is not allowed. If she wants to play the game, the same rules apply.

In the future, I encourage all viewers to listen with intent instead of fishing for words. Both are meaningful, but without a doubt, the former is superior to the latter.

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