The company you keep

The company you keep

Celeb status took a bit of a dent in the New York court that found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of five of six charges involving sex trafficking and abuse of young people. Of course, the vast majority of Celebs are thoroughly nice, decent people. To know them and mix in their circles adds a sparkle to life and provides opportunities for the most skilful and rewarding name dropping. But the Maxwell verdict will make a few people shudder and, I shouldn’t wonder, have some of them scurrying to their old diaries to see where they were at the time of such cruelty and abuse. The message is that Celeb or not, your behaviour is subject, albeit slowly, to the laws of the land which themselves are based on what constitutes decent living and what does not.

Status and stature can be traps for the unwary. A smart motor car, private plane and houses all over the world denote wealth but not necessarily good character. And the acquisition of money is not of itself evidence of anything but good pump priming, shrewd investment and luck. At worst it can be evidence of theft, often from the poor, always from the unwary. We are not given brains of equal value and minds capable of competing successfully with everyone else. We have yet to learn how disparate our minds are and the reasons for such seeming unfairness. One day we may know the answer. For now the law must assume that at any moment we are capable of choosing right from wrong, even though there is some evidence that this is not so.

Who you mix with matters. It matters from the first playground you visit to the last celebration of your life. So what determines your friends? Why do some people seem from the first to be with the “in” crowd, others to be on the outside of society scrambling to get in? Obviously, your economic circumstances determine where you are at the start. Rich kids have expensive toys, visit up market places, attend status-confirming schools and mix with those of similar ilk. Poor children play on building sites after the workmen have gone home. Their criteria of success are sometimes who steals the most and gets away with it. Status is often confirmed by brute force. At this stage, you have a choice. You do not have to be rich to be decent so you can identify good people, even on the building site. Better still you can join a group that is curious about life and whose members are keen to learn all they can about it. Good parents, rich or poor, teach their children to ask questions and always, always answer them.

Very few parents teach their children the importance of the circle in which they mix. They were not taught it themselves and it mostly doesn’t occur to pass it on to their own. But of all the moralities you can teach the young, I think this is the most important. Your morals are not, for the most part, formed by lectures, wherever delivered. They are formed by the needs of a young person, and the social group in which those needs will be met. An independent and brainy child will normally need little reassurance about his or her abilities. They can choose their friends from a big pool since everyone wants to be associated with them. A child of less than top intellect, as I was, who may have had some deprivations in his or her early life will want reassurance and will seek anyone who is willing to befriend them regardless of character. This child is vulnerable. His or her search for the meaning of love and the desperate hope of getting some will be a life-long venture.

Encouraging good friends and expressing reservations about less desirable companions is relatively easy. Children of any background listen to the good and bad things said about their friends. They see themselves as competitive and want echoes of approval. They heed criticism even when they appear to disagree with it. Indeed, their disagreement is often a sign that they are taking note of what is being said. Naturally, parents need to be good company, too. Drunken, foul-mouthed, unclean parents have a very deleterious effect on their children. But no parents will be perfect and I hope we never see the day when parents are ‘lectured and qualified’. Diversity means accepting all and knitting them together to make whatever result we want. The skill of life is not conformity but an ability to work with what you have or can easily obtain.

Understanding love and the ability to find some for oneself is certainly a key to the success of most individuals but it would be wrong to think of this as a purely selfish exercise. Many are born with a powerful drive to give love, and that doesn’t mean only or mainly sex. A surprisingly large number of people have a yearning to find the perfect partner or friend on whom to bestow their love. That in no way excuses their behaviour when it reaches beyond the laws of society. But in a world where excess is constantly lauded and promoted it is hardly surprising that it works its way into the minds of a few leading them off the path of human dignity and decency.

A good New Year’s resolution might be to examine our list of friends and ask, of each “Does he or she help me enjoy life decently? Do they encourage my learning? Do they stimulate my thinking?”

Three ‘yes’ answers and you are on a winning streak. You will have a Very Happy New Year.

Which is what, in any case, we all wish you, with all our hearts.

Good morning 2022

John Bittleston

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