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.