We seldom know why others behave the way they do. We speculate, guess, ascribe motives they may not even have heard of, but we seldom know. Over my long lifetime, personal behavior has generally deteriorated, as far as I can see. Perhaps that is because responsibility for it has increased, not least because politicians have found more to legislate about – as though that was their only job – and lawyers have found profitable pickings from prosecuting, even on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. If good behaviour is consideration for others and bad behaviour is the opposite, bad behaviour is currently winning – though not outright.
We also appear to pay less attention to it than we did when I was young. It seemed that those we came across in the air raids and our neighbours were helped more to behave decently during WWII. Of course, not so many things were crimes in those days. There was just bad behaviour and good behaviour. The remedy for wrongdoing was to behave better, not because of threats of reprisal or punishment but because you became a better person for doing so. That sort of decent behaviour started to leave the UK about 1960 when Swinging London became the rage – although even then it was a fairly gentle ‘rage’.
Bad behaviour hasn’t looked back since. Or you can turn to the bright side and see that certain aspects of good behaviour are, at last, becoming recognised as important and given the proper attention they need. Slavery, the repression of people because of the colour of their skin, Sexism, the mistreatment of women, Ageism, the abuse of the old, Paedophilia, the sexual abuse of the young, are all now rightly exposed by the glare of the media, with citizens being given the opportunity to show their disgust at such behaviour. Only, the expressions of disapproval seem to be getting more violent, which allows Authority to react more aggressively.
Are blasphemy, obscenity, vulgarity and violence the inevitable consequences of freedom?
Absolutely not, but they will become so if we continue down the path of believing they are ‘not my business’. Strange that as the world has become more crowded we have seen fit to live in increasing isolation – apart from being forced to do so by the pandemic. Every new messaging service brings with it a tag of loneliness. Every new message needs scrutiny that we are not infringing copyright or treading on sensitivities that could land us in trouble.
“A neater waistline comes from disciplined eating and exercise, not from stronger belts.”
But life is for living, for enjoying when we can, and freedom is the right to make the best of it. No one of us, no single group, no political party, no religious sect can make the world a better place on our own. We can only do so if we help and influence other people. Those people cannot be simply the like-minded. I think example is the best teacher but maybe no longer the only one. Perhaps we have to be prepared to step into other people’s territories a little more, not to bully, chastise or remonstrate but to educate, to present the reasons why ‘better behaviour’ is a benefit first to the better behaved themselves and secondly to the rest of society.
Individual freedom does not come cheap. It carries with it a heavy responsibility for other people. Some blame the money-based approach to life for – as they see it – selfishness. To do so is to miss the point. Selfishness, the essential ingredient for survival, is only well served when others have the same freedom and use it as responsibly as they must to make a credible and bearable society. It has taken a warning about the continued existence of the planet to point this out to many. Those who saw the threat in its early stages have spoken up, made the videos, trodden into the territories of people who don’t understand or don’t care.
The better behaviour we seek requires us to be courageous, to speak out when we see bad actions, not simply to turn away in disgust when something that society cannot tolerate is happening. It equally requires us to be non-violent, to teach not to trash. If violence continues to escalate at the rate it is doing now half the world will eventually be locked in civil war.
Every thinking person has such a responsibility.
So do all the others.