We underestimate our importance

We underestimate our importance

The overwhelming power of Covid-19 has confirmed and accelerated a trend to disbelieve in our own importance. It is a frightening state to find ourselves in and we should do everything we can to arrest it. If we don’t, I fear for the future of democracy. Not that I am an unreserved fan of democracy at the best of times. It has severe limitations and, like all systems, it only works when you make it work. And we are not doing that by ignoring rules about personal contact and how to avoid spreading the pandemic. Such is the flouting of these rules that Covid-19 cases are rising and the head of public health in UK says it ‘may get out of control’.

To avoid spreading the disease you must wear a mask all the time outside the home except when you are actually eating and drinking. That exception must not be used as a way to avoid wearing a mask at all – but that is precisely how it is being used in some countries. It is not a complex instruction. However, the instructions about group gatherings are often incomprehensible and unpoliceable. It is ridiculous to think that there are resources to go round counting the number of people at dinner and where they have come from. Unenforceable rules are self-defeating.

Our importance extends far beyond the virus. It just so happens that Covid-19 is making us aware of it by vividly demonstrating what damage we can do when we are irresponsible. A far bigger area in which we must demonstrate our common sense is managing people. Every day multitudes approach their work with trepidation and fear. They see their bosses – often rightly – as powerful brutes, prepared to make their lives hell. They are fitted up, cheated, abused and driven to despair by a culture of terror based on their need for their jobs.

That is changing, faster than the brutes realise. One day they will be in the firing line. Possibly in court, too, if the oppressed are strong like the Philipina helper who refused to be a victim of her boss’s lies. She behaved responsibly; her boss, irresponsibly, illegally and disgracefully. A landmark case from both social and legal points of view. The helper concerned knew her importance and used it correctly, and congratulations to her for that. Small beginnings, but that is how the #MeToo movement started. It has become an important part of our culture.

All these moves whether legal or social are essentially political. What society determines as its standards usually becomes law. When cigarette smoking was proved to be seriously harmful and the cause of much premature death society took the first steps towards banning it anywhere it could cause cancer. The laws followed. Even today there are those who smoke, unable to give up the addiction or simply obtuse by nature. Silly billies.

Politically the newer countries are waking up and seeing the potential for acquiring more political influence in the hope of making life fairer for the poor. That is good. Voters – you and I – should exercise whatever rights we have politically provided we do so decently and lawfully. It is the failure to exercise the vote, and sometimes the rigging or gerrymandering of the vote, that leads to riots. Peaceful protest rallies are a perfectly legitimate form of expression; riots are not. The violence so liberally dished out by the media is not for repeating in real life, though sometimes that is precisely what happens.

The aggression now widely thought to be the only way to make an impression on the lawmakers is a step too far. America, in particular, is becoming ‘violence cazy’ without apparently realising that murder is rather final. It is a sad comment on a society when the best beneficiaries of a pandemic are the gunmakers. Voices must be heard but you need quiet for that to happen, not gunshot echoes. Mahatma Gandhi brought independence to India by peaceful political action.

But systems only work if you make them work. Democracy bestows rights but they must be exercised, and by many more people than they currently are. Education – both at home and at school / university – is poorly equipped to help the young behave politically responsibly. Many try and many succeed but the majority don’t bother. They have not been taught that we are important, every single one of us.

Our importance is that we must be responsible.

Only if we are will we make a world worth living in.