Tag Archives: morality

Unsporting Spectators

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Good morning, dear reader!  Happy Wednesday!

Today I would like to talk to you about the idea of standing by while stuff happens.  How often do we get involved with what’s going on around us?

I recently finished reading Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland, which is a bizarre combination of fact and fiction.  It faithfully describes the words and actions of Idi Amin during his tyrannous rule of Uganda, but the narrator is a fictional character who never really existed (although his experiences in the novel are loosely based on those of real people).  The character is a doctor, so it makes absolute sense that he describes the events in the novel with clinical precision and accuracy.  It is difficult, however, to get inside his head and feel that you know him.  Perhaps that’s for the best – his destructive and terrifying friendship with a dictator is not something that we necessarily want to sympathise with – but it was a bit jarring all the same.

There is also a moral dilemma afoot (that’s right: afoot).  Should Nicholas Garrigan (for ‘t’was the narrator’s name) have stepped in at some point?  He was afraid, and he was inexplicably drawn in to Amin’s web, but couldn’t he have done something?  He never says anything and he doesn’t try to create change in Uganda.  The British government repeatedly ask him to kill Amin, or at least to spy on him for them, and he refuses.  What a wuss.

I had a similarly irritated reaction to Robert Graves’ autobiographical account of the First World War, Goodbye to All That.  Graves was, I’m sure, a very brave man who fought well for his country.  Having said that, he comes across in his autobiography as a complete and total prat.  He has an assumed self-importance that some people get when they’ve befriended famous people, or happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Graves is like that about Siegfried Sassoon’s letter to The Times in 1917 – he essentially says “Oh, yeah, I was totally there for that.  Yeah.  Told him not to send it, actually.  Yeah.  Me and Siggy – we’re like that.”

Forgetting for a moment that Sassoon’s letter was a major turning point in public awareness of the horrors of trench warfare and the campaign as a whole, Graves’ approach repels the reader by making them feel that inactivity would have been better than what Sassoon did.  Garrigan and Graves – both too far from fiction to be ignored – are discomfiting people because they show us that not all humans are heroes.  We would all love to think that we would take action when faced with their situations, but the truth is that we have no way of knowing for sure.

Wouldn’t it be weird if Prince Charles finally got the throne, and it turned out that all those years of waiting had turned him into a crazed tyrant?  (Probably not going to happen, but something to bear in mind.)  How do you think you’d behave?  Do you think that you’d speak out against him?  Would you wage a campaign?  Would you help to save those who’d been mauled by corgis in the street for incorrect etiquette (or whatever his problem turns out to be)?

We have no way of knowing how we would behave in situations like that, but I think that we can find smaller ways to find out.  We don’t need a tyrant or a global war to show us who we are.  We can step up to the smaller, everyday moments of injustice, and refuse to accept them, like we do when we donate to charity or run a marathon for cancer research.  That is all excellent stuff to do.

Well, I’m off to the Post Office, because my life is thrilling like that.  You have an absolutely cracking Wednesday.

Judgement Call

the-breakfast-club-netflix

Good morning and happy Saturday to you!  D’you know, I only discovered yesterday that this is another bank holiday weekend.  Thank goodness those poor, tired bankers are having a well-earned rest from the arduous task of stealing our money.

As you can see, I’ve just made a mass-judgement about bankers based on the global financial crisis, and although that’s not exactly a controversial opinion, I’m sure that there are nice, compassionate people among the financiers of Canary Wharf.  (Don’t look at me like that.  It could happen.)

What makes you judge someone?  Do you assume that someone is trendy (and therefore a bad person) because they’re sporting a beard and skinny jeans?  Do you dub someone a saint in your mind because you witness them buying a Big Issue?  Do you lose respect for a friend when you discover that they enjoy the musical stylings of Justin Bieber?

I do, and if you’re honest I think you do, too.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a preachy post about how we need to be less judgemental (although I think we should probably give it a go, shouldn’t we?  Yeah, alright.  I will if you will).  Instead, I would like to identify a few things that we absolutely should judge people based on:

1) How they talk about their elders
Even if someone doesn’t have the best relationship in the world with their biological parents, everyone has parental figures in their lives from whom they have learned a great deal.  The way that someone talks about their mum, older sibling, grandparent, favourite teacher etc. tells you a lot about what made them who they are, and how big a part of their personality is informed by a sense of respect.

2) Sense of humour
Don’t be misled here: I don’t mean that you should judge people based on which sitcoms they like, or whether they’re fans of the Cornetto Trilogy.  By “sense of humour” I mean how they respond to day-to-day life: do they laugh when they fall over in public, or throw a hissy fit?  Do they snigger at others’ misfortune, or are they sympathetic?  A person’s sense of humour demonstrates very clearly what their priorities are and how much perspective they have.

3) Social standing
Again, don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not suggesting that we split the world into Breakfast Club characters.  What I mean is, you can tell a lot about someone by how their friends behave around them.  For example, my brother is the dad figure in his friendship group at uni.  This amuses me because I know him well enough (obviously) to know that how his friends see him accurately reflects his personality.

4) How (much) they feel about stuff
Obviously we can’t have an opinion about everything, but you can make fairly accurate assumptions about someone based on how much they care about their interests, ambitions and morals.  It doesn’t really matter what the interests are (within the limits of morality and the law, of course) as long as the person cares about them.  Apathy is the enemy of romance, art, the progress of science and half-decent conversation.

5) How they feel about you
For your own sake, you should definitely make judgements based on how someone treats you, and how they feel about you.  Someone who loves you (and acts like it) is clearly an excellent human being, and someone who does not is not worth your time.  Also, who wouldn’t love you?  You’re adorable!

Have a lovely, relaxing Saturday.  Maybe go for a long walk.