Over the past few days, social media has been awash with disgust at the note left on an ambulance window when the paramedics had been called to a dying man. It was a critical and time sensitive occasion and the patient died later in hospital. The man who had left the note, which read ‘you may be saving lives, but don’t park your van in a stupid place and block my drive’, has since called his own behaviour ‘monstrous’.
I am not going to join the viral chorus of blame and repugnance for this act. It may be an isolated incident, but I think it is symptomatic of something our world now suffers from on a much wider scale. The culture of ‘me’.
This is not about individuals, rather it is the baseline of Western society. People, as individuals, still care, still go out of their way to help others, still embrace family and friendship. But, we have crafted for ourselves a wider society of entitlement in which we are encouraged to believe that we come first.
Survival of the fittest has not disappeared from humankind’s evolutionary path, it has just been redefined. Our ‘fitness’, once a purely physical quality required for survival, is now measured by what we own or the position we hold on the socio-economic ladder and we are encouraged to fight tooth and claw for that place in many arenas, from school to the workplace and beyond. We compete not to be the best we can be, but to be seen to be the best.
At some point along the way, we have lost our connection to that sense of community that shares its efforts for a greater good than its own. Not completely… it is still there. It only takes a crisis, or a cause that touches our hearts, to remind us of how to pull together. I have witnessed that myself, here on these pages, on more than one occasion. For instance, when my son decided to ride in the triathlon and you raised £3000 in sponsorship for charity…and in doing so, changed his life, giving him the confidence to go on to new and exciting things.
But, on a day-to-day basis, while life is plodding along, we are not so good. The advent of entertainment technology has us all staring at screens most evenings, either watching TV or doing whatever it is that draws us to a computer. We seldom gather together in the way we once did. We are losing the art of conversation and, critically, of listening to each other. Neighbours often do not know each other, other than to nod in the street. Any delay, at a supermarket checkout or in a queue of traffic, is a personal affront and time is our enemy, so those few minutes ‘wasted’ are resented.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
These lines were penned in 1624 by the metaphysical poet, John Donne in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. The idea of the interconnectedness of all things is probably more widespread now than at any other time in our history. We understand, at least in part, how dependant we are upon a functioning ecology. The storm-creating butterfly of Chaos Theory has become a byword and quantum entanglement posits a connection between particles light years apart.
We know that for our world, even our universe, to function correctly, every thing we know is dependant upon its interaction with something else. Yet we are failing to apply that to ourselves and are consequently isolating ourselves from each other.
There is no mysterious ‘they’ who can be blamed… even our governments are freely elected… and there is a cut-off point where a society’s decadence decays beyond repair. Any society creates the ‘rules’ for the behaviour of its people. But a society is created by the behaviour of its people… and that means that not only are its faults our own, but that any change we wish to see begins with us. It should not be beyond our capabilities to turn ‘me’ into ‘we’.