Tuesday, 2 February 2021

A good citizen or a badass. How to chose.


A street party in Scotland in 2018 to celebrate a royal wedding.  How does this make you feel?  Uncomfortable?  Worried?  Shocked?  Nostalgic?

 Good citizens

It pays to be a good citizen. It is the glue that keeps us functioning together in our families, communities, societies and cultures. A good citizen will understand and agree to follow the rules laid down for them by their law makers and governments.  A good citizen will do so in the best interests of themselves and those around them.  A bad citizen won't follow the rules.  Sometimes a bad citizen can't follow the rules, for one reason or another (disabilities, dysfunction, stubbornness) and sometimes they won't follow the rules. That is called being a badass.  A disrupter.  And some way down the scale, a criminal.  There are so many rules to follow, there is a pecking order, and to be a good citizen you only need to do as much as is necessary to stay on the right side of functioning in a recognizable and cooperative way.  You may for example, pay for everything you buy, support local neighbourhood watch schemes to look after your community, and not drop litter.  But, even though you drive 40mph through a 30mph area, and so break the law, (not follow the rules), you may think very little of it.  If caught, you would get a fine and points on your license - "It's not as if I murdered anyone!" you may say in annoyance.  "It's not as if I stole your life savings!" 

Being a good citizen means we belong.  Yes, and there are many ways in which someone can seem to be a good citizen but are actually not, and the world is also full of those who wish to be good, play their part in society, and to do as they are told.  Quite right too, it is by being "all in this together" that we rub along in as much harmony as we can.  More or less.  My mother was all for law and order but would think nothing of sneaking bottles of gin into the country when coming back from a Lourdes pilgrimage.  She would hide them in the wheelchairs of the sick as they came off the special trains that took them to and from Lourdes in France.  Didn't give it a second thought.  

I am a good citizen.  I believe in law and order.  I believe in social responsibility, in kindness, in doing the right thing.  But I have had to think again recently about how good a citizen I really am, within the agreement to follow the rules, laws and guidelines set down for me by those who govern.  Am I a good citizen if I do not like what is laid out for me, and think the rules are actually bad? What do I do?  Do I go along with it and be the good citizen I have always been, or do I stop following those rules and discover that I am outside the norm, and am I comfortable there, and what makes me so right anyway?  

Here is what I am seeing.

I know a very good citizen.  He is doing all that is asked of him and would not dream of doing otherwise.  He is a single parent, has two children, and lots of health issues.  He is very young too.  He has not been outside his door for the last six months except once or twice with his boys, and then only when they thought they would not meet anyone.  By anyone I mean anyone. He is so frightened of breaking the rules that he and his boys will not leave their house, and will not even answer the door to anyone.  Stuck inside the house, his health deteriorating, his young sons becoming more and more frightened of the world and all of humanity outside their front door, he is becoming rigid in his beliefs that it is only by living in this way that he and his sons are safe.  He listens to the news, watches the television, mistrusts everyone and keeps his now abnormally distressed children close to him.

This man is following the rules.  He is a good citizen.  Far from anyone in his street wanting to save him, they all applaud him.  What an example he is giving!  Those that can leave food on his doorstep and when he sees they have gone, he collects it and washes it.  Well done!  Everyone seems to say, well done. 

Another good citizen I know is frightened of dying and though her husband drives her mad, she is frightened of him dying too.  Both are not in good health, are past sixty and the husband is now past seventy.  He has dementia too.  What she has done for exercise for the last however long is to walk around their little house in circuits, helping him to stagger with her as he is a bit doddery, and sometimes if they are brave they go into the garden, through the garage and back into the house.  It is a bigger circuit.  It breaks the monotony. This good citizen is a child of the outdoors.  She does not like to be inside, she longs for wide open spaces, trees and the wind in her hair.  Even during her illnesses a couple of years ago, she went for whatever walks she could on her own in the forests and Downs nearby.  Her husband and she are, were, great cyclists, and spent all their time out doors.  So her indoor and outdoor circuits are not helping her soul right now.  It is hard for her to find much motivation or hope in her life but she is doing as she is told.  She did not die when she had a really serious illness, despite thinking she would, and now that she is well, she is told that to leave her home risks her and her husband's death.  And she does not know where this death is coming from because no one can see it, only that it will find her and her husband should they not do what they are told to do.  So, being deeply fearful and obedient, erring totally on the side of caution because why would she take such risks and not err on the side of caution, she has become depressed, lonely, burdened with the care of her husband, and utterly mistrustful of everyone.  She sees no one.

She and the young father with health issues are very good citizens indeed.  They see less good citizens from their windows, walking around too close to each other, sometimes laughing, often chatting.  This worries them greatly.  Part of them wants to tell them off, to tell them that all of us should be inside and frightened like they are.  Another part of them wants to stop it all and go out and join them and remember what it was like to be normal.  Both are lonely and very scared, but have lost touch with what it is they are most afraid of.  Death, perhaps.  I asked the young man on a zoom call whether it was the virus or the social reaction from other people that worried him most.  After some thought, he said, much to his own surprise, that it was the social reaction from other people.  Well, he said.  How about that.

There are so many stories of endurance and fortitude at the moment.  Law abiding and honest people just getting by alone and without support.  So many of us are doing the best we can.  Stuck with the people we live with or stuck all on our own, terrified to ask for help because there is none out there, and if there was, who would deliver it but another person and people, we are told, are dangerous.  Best say nothing at all and if we die of something else, at least it is not this terrible disease that we cannot see, hear, sense or know.  Everything outside is gone, closed, shut down in case, inadvertently, everyone dies.  And then what.  Best never go out or see anyone. The bottom line is that as good citizens we are doing what we are asked to do, and we understand that if we don't, there will be terrible consequences.  And it will all be our fault. Your fault. Good citizens, we who are doing the best that we can, can report each other to the police for being outside.  Or hugging someone.  And the good thing is we remain anonymous so it is easy to do.  And satisfying.  Perhaps like the young father, those who report are torn between outrage that the rules are being broken and a furious resentment that they are enjoying themselves.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps the anger feels normal now and rules are rules. 

What I think

I think we are being tested greatly.  Most of us want the best for each other.  We are social creatures, we thrive in communities, we are proud of our families and love that we have a circle of friends.  We like the approval of those around us, we like belonging to the group, and until recently we were secure in what we knew around us.  All these things, we took for granted.  But now contact with people we love, know and are related to is forbidden.  Hugs, chats around the kitchen table, popping in to see how an older person is, being kind to those in despair and playing with children in the park - the good citizen must not do any of these at all despite the collateral damage (despair, alcoholism, mental illness, untreated disease, social dysfunction and so on) growing visibly. Being a good citizen is becoming counter intuitive.

Are we good citizens if we obey the laws and rules set by the governing bodies that do us harm? Well yes, we are.  We are being obedient and doing what we are told to do, from which comes order in society.  Our law makers would call us good, because we are obeying.  What I question is the correctness, the goodness perhaps, of the rules and laws themselves.  I worry that the good people following bad rules are creating divisions, difficulties and losses that will be hard to put right later.  I am a good citizen.  I have never been in trouble with the law, and I am nice, polite and kind.  I give money to beggars.  If I am given too much change in a shop, I give it back.  I give others the benefit of the doubt and do not argue if possible - I do what my cousin Maddy says, loveliness.  I do loveliness.

But I am now becoming a not-good citizen.  There seems to be a "good" as in doing the correct thing because of a rule, and "good" as in a moral and compassionate action.  I have begun to do the latter.  In doing so I have been breaking the rules and have become a bad citizen.  A badass.  A disrupter.  I really hope I am not a criminal.  I hugged a young man who was crying in the street because he had nothing to live for.  I sat with and next to a lady who needed someone to listen to her.  I listened to a young girl who was frightened of everything but especially that her mother would find out that she had a boyfriend and he was not from her culture.  I bought her a cup of tea, the girl, so we could talk and she could sort out her fears.  Another time, a sad and lonely young person that I know in passing, asked if he could speak to me as he was hearing voices and thought cars in the street were talking to him.  I asked if he had told anyone else.  No, he said. This young man needed time and attention, and so I gave it.  I shouldn't have done.  I broke the rules.  I am so glad I did.  He let me call his mum.  She had been worried and wanted to help him, tell him to come home, she said.  It was obvious this young man needed proper psychiatric care.  That ended well but we had to step outside the new rules to do it.  (I have since heard he is safe and with his mum).


And so -

Am I a good or a bad citizen? I am certainly a concerned one.  It is now normal for us to consider each other as a bio hazard.  How will that pan out?  As I walked through the town centre today, with people swerving out of my way, with all the shops and businesses boarded up, and a lady wearing two masks, gloves and a business suit, fussing over all the customers lining up outside the local bank, ceaselessly  bossing them around and making sure they were all in order, I thought that we had given all our energies and power to this one virus.  We have made it the scapegoat for everything we fear.  We have given something that does not merit it, all of our attention, and made it into a monster that has given us purpose in our fear, has given us a new community to belong to.  We have created such a bogey man that it has overpowered us and we are in thrall to it.  I remember reading of a treatment for the plague in 1615, where a pigeon is cut in two and laid on the feet of the sufferer.  Pigeons were considered potent in healing for centuries.  It couldn't happen now though.  If someone proposed laying a freshly halved pigeon on your feet to make you better, you would probably have them arrested. But for many years people believed in it completely.  Just for the record, the virus is real - very real - but I do not like the methods in place to deal with it.  They, many of the methods, are like the pigeon halves.

I do not know where this will lead, and I watch this all with concern. I repeat, everyone is doing the best they can with the information that they have.  People, most of us, only want the best for each other and at heart our caring and compassionate spirits are very much intact.  Anyone suffering from this virus needs all the love and care they can get, and those that die either with or from it, leave such sadness behind.  We cannot dispute any of that.  My worry is that how we are learning to behave with a single virus and the idea of death from this one thing only, has caused us to lose our perspective to such a degree that all of our power, fear, projection and energy been offered up on the altar of one single thing. How do we come down from this?  I don't know.  I hear pigeons are very effective. 

I'm full of surprises.


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  1. One of the best musings I have seen in a while. In my opinion you are a wonderful, compassionate citizen applying common sense and appreciating that there is still a much wider landscape to consider. It’s not my opinion that counts, but I hope you know yourself that you are one of the good ones and there is nothing wrong with sensible questioning.

  2. Excellent piece. Very much agree. Strange times...

  3. I think an awful lot of people are really thinking in the same way but are
    a) afraid to stand out and intuitively feel the virus is not really as bad as it has been portrayed
    b) inhibited by those who seek to imprison us.
    Isolation is deliberate. There is good reason why theatres, public houses and cafes have been denied us as these are the places where we have always gathered and exchanged opinions about the trivial to the profound.
    I have always followed two principles; Baders - rules are for the blind obedience of fools .... and Luther Kings - "There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all... One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly...
    Your piece gently reminds me of this in these horrible times.