I’ve been struck recently by some things on various radio phone in shows. No, not the type where Dave from Salford spends twenty minutes arguing with Robbie Savage about whether Manchester United’s defence is simply bad or totally appalling. I mean current affairs ones where, for the most part, the public interaction is actually via text or email.
The comments which have particularly grabbed my attention are these:
1) On a discussion about Ed Milliband’s leadership of the Labour Party he was accused of not speaking about aspiration enough.
2) In an item on asylum seekers in Calais trying to get to the UK, one texted said that most of them were economic migrants and that “do-gooder liberals” were lying about it.
3) A piece on historical sexual abuse claims laid the blame at “bleeding heart lefties”.
And these comments saddened me greatly. Not because they were made by people who clearly have right-wing political views, I may not share that persuasion, but I accept that we will all disagree on stuff. Instead, I was saddened at the selfish nature of each of the comments which see personal welfare as all important and the welfare of others as something to be ignored, or even sneered at.
When did we become a country where helping others was seen as a bad thing, something to be trampled under the feet of aspiration and personal growth? When did doing good turn into an insult to be thrown about rather than a virtue which we should all aspire to? When did your heart bleeding for the plight of others become something to be accused of, rather than praised for?
This, sadly, is the language of the right. The language of the vast majority of our mainstream politicians, who inhabit that ground, of most of our national newspapers and now of many of the general public who have been told so often that “do gooders ” “bleeding heart liberals” and “lefties” are the root cause of all of societies problems (despite no truly left wing government having been in power for 35 years!) that they believe and repeat it.
We are a society which needs to look after each other, despite Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncement that there was no such thing as society, only individuals. Mrs T spoke about entitlements and obligations, and she had a bit of a point. However, the way people have taken it, the way I think she meant it, is badly wrong. We all have an obligation to look after each other and an entitlement to expect that we should be looked after by others as well.
Our society has, however, been working under the assumption that our only obligation is to look after ourselves and our family, and that others should be expected to do the same. The idea that people feel a sense of entitlement to help when needed is seen as wrong, selfish and bad, that if they are in that position then they have, in some way, failed to live up to their obligation to look after themselves and, therefore, why should we be expected to clear up for them.
Well, the reason people have this sense of entitlement is simple. They are entitled. We all are, by virtue of being fellow human beings. To deny that is to deny our very humanity, what makes us so special as an animal. We do, of course, have an obligation to look after ourselves and ensure, as best that we can, that we are able to support ourselves. However, if we are able to look after and support ourselves then that obligation extends to others as well and, as such, means that each of us is entitled to that help and support when we need it.
So, I am a do-gooder, because doing good is one of the greatest aspirations we can have as human beings. I have a bleeding heart, because caring about others is what we have been put here for. I am a leftie, because the word social in socialist describes all of us working together for the good of all of us, not just our own, individual, selfish desires.
It’s time we stopped asking ‘what’s in it for me’ and started asking ‘what’s in it for all of us’. Not just our family, friends, communities and those who, by an accident of birth, share the same nationality, but all people everywhere, regardless of race, colour, gender, creed, sexuality or nationality.