Condemning a little less…

I am reminded of John Major's notorious remarks to the Mail on Sunday about young offenders: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less". He won widespread plaudits at the time. The same sentiment echoes around today. Everyone who is calling for rubber bullets and water cannon to quell the 'London Riots' is busy condemning. And I can see why. It's very hard for me to see how torching someone's home, or making off with an armful of contraband electronics can possibly be justified as 'protest', whether against the government or the police. I could so easily join the queue to condemn too. It would cost me nothing to condemn the rioters – it takes no time or effort, requires no information or insight. I wouldn't need to find out how their communities have been policed, how their previous discontents have been heard and responded to, where their anger comes from, or even if it is anger at all. Maybe it is boredom, or despair, or envy. Maybe it is just 'badness'. Or maybe different people have different motivations. Oh dear – it's already getting too complex. Why don't I stick with condemnation, then I wouldn't need to care.

But I do care.      

I was born in London, then my family moved out when I was nine and I never loved the city enough to live there again. So I'm clueless, really, about these riots. I'm middle-class and middle-aged and white, and I live in the home counties. What do I know? What could I possibly know?

I know that society is deeply unfair. I know that intergenerational poverty blights lives. I know that parenting in poverty is really hard. I know that support for children and families has been cut. I know that unsupported families often twist and turn in a vortex of financial nightmares, chronic ill-health and mental-illness, substance abuse and chaotic and sometimes violent relationships. Once in that vortex, cause and effect become difficult to unravel. I know that children raised in such environments are fighting a losing battle not to replicate those forces in their own lives as young adults. I know that fear and aggression, like despair and bravado, are twins. I know that "challenging" and "vulnerable" are two sides of the same coin.

I know that rubber bullets and water-cannon won't fix this (in the same way that they have never 'fixed' anything in Belfast). I believe that understanding will. Nothing justifies looting or setting fire to homes and businesses;  some things do explain those actions. Understanding causes takes us more than half way to dealing adequately with consequences.  

I may not love the city enough to live there, but it breaks my heart to see London on fire tonight. I have no instinct to condemn. I really do want to understand. And help fix this.

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4 thoughts on “Condemning a little less…

  1. This is a really well written article. Londons problems are complex as in many major cities. This government is clueless. Is there another organisation any where that let’s all the senior managers go away on holiday at the same time? I am despairing at the moment. Everyone is feeling disillusioned and many people are struggling. The cuts need to stop. Big businesses should pay their fair share of tax. Small community halls, youth clubs, children’s centres etc need more funding so people have things to do and places to go in their communities. Hopefully then people will feel valued and life will be worth living, not worthless and hopeless. Thank you for this well written thoughtful blog. I too feel I want to fix things.

  2. To condemn is a terrible thing. But what have these brainless random attacks on private homes, cars and business got to do with anything but violent opportunism, by kids and young adults who it would seem take no responsibility for there own lives and believe they should be given or take everything they want, when they want it. Why should I as normal law abiding citizen with bills to pay, a family to protect, in these trying economic times take the time to deeply understand the reasons behind these actions? If this is a result of mass deprivation and social economic devastation then why are the majority of people that live in London that are all being effected by downturn in economy, public spending cuts, loss of jobs etc not taking it upon themselves to join in? Protesting is one thing, burning and stealing from the community you live in is another!

  3. "Why should I as normal law abiding citizen with bills to pay, a family to protect, in these trying economic times take the time to deeply understand the reasons behind these actions?"Because if you (we) don’t, then who will? Because it does affect us, and because we do want it to change – that’s not fair, maybe we shouldn’t have to do it, we all wish we didn’t – but none of us lives in a bubble, and if ‘we’ don’t care, then why should ‘they’?Maybe our lack of engagement and caring is part of the initial problem? It doesn’t cause any direct, visible harm , but it does allow problems to escalate to the unimaginable level that we saw last night. If everything is ‘somebody else’s problem’, then how do we have any sort of connected society where everyone acknowledges their relationships with those around them – younger, older, richer, poorer, cleverer, stupider, more violent, pacifist – everyone.

  4. "what have these brainless random attacks on private homes, cars and business got to do with anything but violent opportunism, by kids and young adults who it would seem take no responsibility for there own lives and believe they should be given or take everything they want, when they want it" I would say that they are following the example set to them – the top-economic-level of society, the ones who are running the country you live in and who are running the global economy have never shied from brainless, random and violent, opportunistic, attacks on the well-being of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. I’m not one for quoting the bible but in this case "as you sow, so shall ye reap" springs to mind.

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