Thursday, October 12, 2006

Just another day in the urban heartland ...

In the comments responding to the violence debate, Joan gave us a quote from the English philosopher, Edmund Burke:
'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.'

First Born came home yesterday with a story no parent wants to hear. He was with a large group of friends waiting at the bus stop after school. Another friend, A, was coming to join them but when A was about 10 yards from the stop, he was approached by 3 older boys. They grabbed his bag. They went through his pockets. They jostled and pushed him.

This post is not about them. It's not even so much about poor A. It's about FB and his friends because they could see it all as it unfolded.

'C'mon,' FB urged. 'We have to help him. There's loads of us and only 3 of them!'

Not a single one of these other children moved.
'We don't want to get involved,' they said. 'We don't want to be targetted ourselves.'

FB has heard what what can happen to have-a-go heroes. He knew better than to go out on a limb and be the only one to intervene. He recognised that, without the support of the others, he was powerless.

A was lucky. A passing motorist stopped, yelled at the attackers and they scarpered. FB ran over to his friend to comfort and support him.

He was upset and confused when he arrived home. He not only felt sorry for A and was freaked at witnessing a violent incident. He also felt huge frustration at his friends' lack of response and guilty that he hadn't intervened himself, though he knows he had no choice under the circumstances. Hard lessons for an 11 year old!

'I kept saying to them,' he told us, 'What if it was you? What if you were attacked and a bunch of your friends were standing nearby just watching?'

A was shaken but not physically hurt. Today he will have reported the attack to the head who has a zero tolerance policy for such behaviour. The assailants will be dealt with.

But as I said, they're not the ones I want to talk about this time. I'll tell you what I've come to see. That fear is our biggest enemy.

There will always be kids - and adults - like those assailants. Whether you believe they're products of their backgrounds, or that society is to blame, or whether you believe they are simply inherently evil, is not the subject of this particular post.

This time, it's about those who, through fear, didn't intervene. Even though the risk of having the tables turned on them was minimal, those boys were paralysed by fear. The concept of there being strength in numbers didn't come into play. They were just kids. And they were scared.

It's a familiar fear to adults too - those people who Confucious describes as being afraid to walk alone through a park.

Fear shuts down our responses. We feel adrift in a hostile world, besieged by violence and evil. It makes us herd together and haul up the drawbridge. It's the other side of the same coin that Clare describes as the 'pack instinct'. As a result, we tend to mix only with people who we feel are 'like us' and think 'like us'. And once we succumb to that, those we perceive as being different - outside our pack - become a kind of braying amorphous mass. We invest them with near-mythical powers. They're out to get us. And they're everywhere.

We don't see their faces. We have no communication with them. We've effectively dehumanised them. They're just 'out there', lying in wait for anyone who sticks their head above the parapet.

It's an understandable reaction to inner city life but it's a hideous way to feel. And it gets us nowhere. It's a dead end.

So how do we break out of it? How do we learn how to empower ourselves (and our children if we have them) to know the right time for an appropriate and positive collective response? Because if we're going to live in big cities, whether through choice or lack of it, we have to find an alternative to either being paralysed with fear or forming mindless vigilante groups.

I do believe blogging can help, because in the blogosphere we meet people we'd never otherwise encounter. People outside our pack. We can exchange ideas and join debates which, under other circumstances, we wouldn't be exposed to.

Do I hear you say we're just a disparate bunch of individuals? But if there are enough bunches doing what we're doing - around the country, around the world ...

And that ultimately is the lesson for FB's friends. Together we are powerful. Together we can change the world.


Anonymous said...

Very, very interesting blog Debi. This is fast becoming the debating blog!

Sorry to hear what happened Debi, you're really getting it at the moment.

Hasn't that always been the case though, that fear has driven all sorts of intolerance and hatred throughout history ( Aren't I the kettle now!). There's so much of it about. it's hard to know where to start.

What you've said wouldn't have been out of place in a 70's union meeting (remember unions?)
At least people were prepared to stand together in those days, and I'm not saying that they were always in the right. But at least..

Perhaps it all boils down to the fact that these days, society appears to encourage us all to be so selfish? Everyone's so busy looking after themselves, that they've lost compassion for others. Lost the will to put others first sometimes. I know they are only youngsters, but what a shame that they have to feel that way already.

If you think about it, FB's generation have never experienced anything other than our current consumerism-led society, or the fear that seems to be a daily part of our lives.

Unfortunately, the weight to teach the young falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents nowadays. There doesn't seem to be help forthcoming from anywhere else.

These are hard times to live in, because it's so easy to feel isolated, but come the revolution..........

and who knows, perhaps this is the place where it will start......

Hope FB's ok, I'm sure he's feeling guilty right now, but there's nothing he could've done on his own, apart from get in trouble himself - and it's not like he would've got support from his friends.

Don't you just wish you could make yourself a kid again for half an hour.......................

Anonymous said...

Blimey, not wishing to introduce any note of levity into the debate, but just to say that my girls' daily tension is just getting on the darn bus. Every day from school they go to the bus stop, for quite a long (40 min) journey, and every day they get pushed and jostled so they can't get on the bus until 2 or 3 have gone past. The tension is added to becuase a school nearer to the depot lets out 30 mins after my daughters', so if they can't get on a bus before that, they are cooked for ages, and don't get home until 5.30.

This daily torture (Cathy is now in year 11 so she's been in it for 5 years) is so debilitating.

But not the stuff of drama, I appreciate.

The other day Cathy told me a story about something that happened to her when she stayed with her cousins in York for a few days over the summer. She was out with Grace, and saw this line of people. "What's that?" asked Cathy. "It's a queue for the bus" replied Grace. "Oh", said Cathy, "what a good idea. I wish we had those in london".

The Wandering Author said...

Debi; a great and thoughtful post. I'm very sorry for what happened to First Born and his friend; I have some idea what they must have gone through.

But you are right; people need to stand up to fear, rather than letting the evil (from whatever cause) carry the day. It reminds me of a quote from someone in Nazi Germany.

I don't recall exactly how it goes right now (and it's late...) but the gist of it was "First they came for the Jews, and I wasn't a Jew, so I did nothing. Then they came for the Gypsies, and I wasn't a Gypsy, so I did nothing. At last they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to stand up for me."

That is exactly what can happen if we don't do something. Although Ireland gives me hope; it seems they finally saw the futility of all the hatred the extremists among them were indulging in, and moved past that. And I love your idea of using blogging as a force for improvement in society.

Anonymous said...

"A road travelled in fear is a road to nowhere" - Lao Tze.

What is the alternative? It would be nice to stand on the road in safety in the first place.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher of adolescents in a somewhat challenging comprehensive school I came across this attitude every day. It is a hard one to crack, I believe because it is deeply rooted, something animal - to do with propagating our species and preserving our own. But we need to rise above to prove our humanity.

I believe we were getting there, gradually, until the eighties. The atrocities of the war were still fresh in everyone's minds. That quote from the wandering author is so chilling and so true. I think, as confucious says (such a wise man) until the late seventies we stood together. We were thinking 'but we couldn't be like that, could we?' and showing that we were not. But then the eighties came...

Debi said...

Oh thank you all so much for such thoughtful comments.

Confy - nail on head, mate. As for us 'really getting it at the moment', I think this is just the daily reality of inner city life. (Tho it does depend on where you live ...) I feel it's our job to prepare our children to deal with it in the most constructive way cos it ain't going away and we can't protect them from it ...

Maxine - the transport to and from school really is appalling. Most of the problems associated with schools happen on the streets, not at school itself ... We're encouraged to use public transport and not drive our kids to school but if they don't provide a decent service ... Get on to Transport for London and give 'em hell!

WA - that's wonderful that you gave that quote as it was in my head when I wrote the post ... Goes to show we really are thinking along the same lines!

Minx - another apposite quote.

Clare - yeah, I still blame Thatcher too!

My theory is that things are not really so much worse as far as the dangers Out There are concerned. It's more to do with our perception. Partly a result of the media - when you got your (old) news from Pathe et al via grainy b&w images, it was easy to ignore. Now it's so immediate and in your face it's easier to think 'That could be me and mine' as opposed to 'It'll never happen to me ...'

I also genuinely believe the government has a stake in keeping us fearful. While we're cowering in terror we'll gratefully accept any measures thay take to 'protect' us - ranging from id cards, to false arrests, to shooting innocent Brazilian men on the tube, to going to war ...

Marie said...

I was sorry to hear about all this Debi. I do hope FB and his friend are OK now. Must have been scary for them.

I think it's understandable to feel fear these days with so much going on in our society. It's a sad state to be in, but what do we do? A part of you wants to help but another part tells you it could all backfire on you.

And Maxine, I feel so sorry for your girls having to go through all that just to get to school. Public transport can be such a nightmare and living in London is stressful enough.Can we even call it a civilised society these days? With everything that's going on in my own life right now and with everything else I'm seeing and reading about, I can only say that this is a world gone mad. Everyone believes they have more rights than everyone else. Like Confucious says, people just don't know how to feel compassion any more. It's a selfish society all right. What's happened to good manners?

Debi, you may have a point there about the government wanting to keep us fearful. I think it's their way of controlling us. We should all stand up for ourselves in blogworld like you say.

We have the power...

Anonymous said...

Debi, that was a great, perceptive, accurate, analysis. First, a huge bear hug for FB. Of all of them he was the only one with his eyes open, the only one who was operating fully as a human being, reaching out to his friend, realistically assessing the odds, the only one who stayed sane, in the midst of the dreadful psychosis you have described which grips the rest of us. He should be proud, and so should you and G for having raised him.
I was fascinated by the conjunction of this event with the assault on G and my immediate response was that this is not really a different debate at all but the same debate. The fear, the anger, they're two sides of the same coin. What you say about us closing our eyes and refusing to see the 'other', those who are outside 'our gang' is more or less exactly what I was trying to say about the 'dregs', scum' and whatever issue. We don't see, we deny the humanity of the 'other', and the psychosis mounts ( Prozac anyone?)
Can I also take this opportunity to say thank you Confucious T for your letter on the other blog? I tried to reply to it yesterday but a gremlin was in my computer and wouldn’t let me. That vicious little gremlin will keep me from the blogspot for some time (Debi has agreed to post this on my behalf) but I’ll be there, I’ll be following the plot. Thank you for your letter, it was much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

How awful for FB and the family as a whole, hope him and his friend are recovering as well as can be.

Confucious and others make the very vailid point of parental support and control and just pointing out right from wrong. Unfortunately a lot seem to be worshiping at the twin temples of greed and loutishness. But there is mega decency and goodness out here, as long we remember the sheep outnumber the wolves each and every time.

Debi said...

Kath - thanks for coming in on this one.

Personally I don't want to be a sheep either, but I get your point!


You are right this sort of thing is tragic and common place. Everything about Britain these days seems to scream "Me, me, me.."
Other people are just there to be manipulated and bullied and exploited... Whatever you can get away with and then use whatever excuses you can to justify it if caught seems to be the lesson from the policies and personal lives of the lawmakers.
That's what you get after two decades of Thatcherism and Blairism..But yes, your positive input is encouraging. It's so easy to get angry and cheezed off about such negative behaviour but we must have hope for the future without it we are truly doomed and you can turn that anger into doing something positive I guess. Lots of small efforts can combine to make big changes in society. For a start move towards a responsible Government which did not send out such mixed messages about its values.

Lecturing about segregation then funding Faith Schools.

Lecuting about anti-social behavior while bombing and invading a country which posed no threat to us.

You could go on and on..

This really is a shameful time to be British but yeh you are right we could change the world if we really wanted to and cared deeply enough about it..