This blog is about do gooders. You might be surprised at my dismissive tone. Sometimes, however, do gooders just need to be put in their place.
You see, during the recent “Big Freeze” in the UK, householders were warned by their local authorities that clearing the snow from the public footpath and not doing it well could land them in court if someone was injured as a result. For those of you from warmer climes, it’s common for the cleared surface to freeze over, so instead of walking on a reasonably safe snow surface, suddenly, you’re on something more akin to plate glass sprayed with CRC.
Anyone who has read my other blogs or articles on the website will know me as a highly vociferous critic of what has become known as “health and safety gone mad”. They will also know, therefore, that I have concluded that it’s not the rules that are wrong, it’s the way they are being interpreted by lazy, backside covering bureaucrats and church committees. They shy away from what I believe is a duty to understand and constructively influence human behaviour. Instead they take the lazy options to ban and prohibit. I also think for many of them, they experience cruel joy out of restricting others because it validates their lives.
So my response to today’s topic may surprise you. It’s all about that snow and ice, Whitehall, do gooders and misplaced bluster.
Poor Do Gooders?
The result of the council giving warnings to do gooders was the tabloids squawked and Westminster echoed to a collective “Harrrumph” as Lords and Ministers alike trumpetted the reliable old chestnuts about “safety gone mad” as they sprang to the defence of the poor downtrodden Mr and Mrs Average Do Gooder In The Street.
Well, sorry, on this occasion, I just don’t agree. It’s not good enough to get hysterical and say that “They were just trying to help” and that they have no responsibility because they were “Doing their bit for the community”.
First of all, who asked these do gooders to make ice paths for pensioners? Probably nobody. They were acting out of their own need to feel altruistic. I don’t want to labour this, because I will sound very, very churlish. But no one, absolutely no one does anything for anyone else unless they are self motivated. All so called “public spirited” people are motivated by the need to be seen as a willing part of a team or group. To be liked, remembered, to gain social standing. To be a long suffering martyr or similar selfish reasons. Think about it. Do you ever do anything that you are not personally motivated to do? However much it may benefit others, you did it because, for what ever reason, YOU wanted to.
The Pillar of the Community
I don’t know why as a society we still believe in the myth of the selfless pillar of the community. In all my life, I have never met do gooders who weren’t a pain in the backside in some way. I’m not saying this for any other reason except to inject a bit of reality into this issue. I like all types of people, but give me a mischievous straight talking person conscious of their own shortcomings ANY time. I am uneasy around people who spend their time supposedly serving others because I’m sorry, I just don’t trust them. Never turn your back on these types, because they will be setting you up to make them look good as soon as you look the other way. I’m sorry, but they deserve no pity whatsoever.
Look. If you want to be one of the professional do gooders, you have to do it properly. With the full intent that whatever you do is truly useful to others. It should achieve something of value to others and the value should be lasting, not transient. Otherwise, all you’re doing is holding up a mirror and gazing into it lovingly.
If I go out into a public place and adjust it, I have a responsibility to make sure I haven’t introduced a result that the rest of the world finds unexpected or undesirable. If I can’t do that, then I should leave well alone. If I put people at risk, and it was a risk that any reasonable person could have foreseen, then I am a halfwit and I should be held responsible.
If I decided to take pensioners out in a minibus to the beach, run a red light and kill them, I should be punished severely. If I help a blind person across the road and under a bus, I really ought to do the decent thing and walk voluntarily under the next one. As a volunteer firefighter myself, people sometimes say nice things about what I do “for the community”. But if I mess up, I don’t deserve any pity or allowances because of that. I have accepted the responsibility and the public is entitled to expect a certain level of competence.
If we want the credit for doing good and voluntarily take on the responsibility, we have implicitly indicated that we have the competence to do so. Therefore, when it all turns to poo, we should take the rap.
So, call me a grumpy old man but I agree with the councils. Either leave well alone, do gooders, thereby tolerating a known risk, or do the job properly and take the consequences if you get it wrong.