Sometimes, if you wait long enough, popular opinion and the whole social and intellectual climate catches up with you.
I’m sad to say.
Over recent weeks and months we have found ourselves faced with some pretty harsh and equally necessary truths. For too long—especially in the cases of the always dubious Jimmy Savile and lesser-known individuals such as Wayne Rogers—we have held a default position of veneration for anyone who behaves in an overtly charitable way or who claims in some sense the title of “carer”. This is understandable. There are a great many people who work within the fields of charity and caring who are indeed committed, selfless and determined to promote and fight for the rights of the people they represent and, in many cases, love. Nonetheless, such blithe reverence has concerned me for years.
At the heart of my long-established concern has always been the vulnerability of those all too often at the heart of these lines of work. As my regular readers will know, I have a severe physical disability—one that means I am in many respects “dependent” on others to help with my various physical needs. I am, also, however, extremely fortunate in that not only do I have good people around me (principally my parents) but that I am also very capable when it comes to expressing myself (my pleasure, my concerns, my general thoughts, my ideas and stories, and, more importantly in the context of this post, my displeasure). I can, to a degree, empathise. I have—as explored here—a degree of experience, albeit historic, of the vagaries of caring within education, and I have, where possible, tried to understand the various issues from as many different angles as possible. But I do not consider myself vulnerable in the way that a great many in our communities are. That I can do what I am right at this moment doing provides me with the degree of protection that too many simply do not have. They, unlike you, unlike me, cannot express themselves—or, in some cases, they can but simply are not be believed.
And that’s what worries me more than anything. Lack of belief. A general unwillingness (don’t look at me like that, the headlines speak for themselves) to accept that the ostensibly charitable and caring among us can do harm to the very people they are meant to be looking out for.
Now let me be very, very clear about this. I am not in any way suggesting that everyone who works for charities, or who raises funds, is a self-serving predator. Nor am I intending to imply that all (or even a large minority of) care workers, at whatever level, are heartless bullies and abusers. Far from it. What I am, however, trying to highlight is just how important it is for us to acknowledge as a society that individual motivations for following such paths in life are numerous. Whether financial, vocational or simply because circumstance dictates that you have to care for someone close to you because no one can do it as well as you can, many people find themselves falling into these particular categories.
Further to this, however, it also has to be said that some—as far as we know, a very small minority—do specifically target such occupations because it affords them the opportunity of abusing such a privileged (I just want to emphasise that, privileged) position.
Something that has troubled me for many years: you’re sitting at home. You’ve had a busy day, you’re tired. You’ve just finished your evening meal and have had a few drinks. The TV is on and you have your feet up. With me so far? Of course you are. We’ve all been there in one way or another. The tide of televisual experience is washing over you, and you’re taking it in with half a mind. And before you know it, you’re watching some inane game show The host introduces the guests and … here we go! We are being introduced to someone who teaches disabled children, is a care worker or who helps autistic adults live independent lives. How many times have you heard the game show host actually thank that particular person? If you are shaking your head at this point and saying, No, I can’t remember them ever doing that, you really haven’t been paying enough attention. Almost every time, without fail, the person is thanked, or commended in some way. Well, quite right, I hear you say. I, however, invariably find myself feeling, at the very least, extremely uncomfortable.
The vast majority of these people are indeed damn fine individuals doing extremely worthwhile jobs (individuals, it also has to be said, who are probably quite embarrassed by this kind of obsequious, game show recognition). But should we be thanking them? Does such public gratitude serve the greater good?
As already mentioned, people work in these fields for many varied reasons. I think for the majority, however, the principle motive is a love for what they do. This is not altruism. And while, yes, it’s right that the good things they accomplish should be recognised, celebrated and not undermined by political policy and social attitudes, it’s also important to understand that this is not always about sacrifice—and that veneration is not only misplaced but also, as we now know, very dangerous.
This should not, of course, provide sanction for a backlash of outright cynical mistrust. It is important that we view those around us realistically, that we understand that they are capable of great things—but, also, that some among us are perfectly happy to hide behind any public façade of reverence we might afford them.
While we should still take care about any accusations we feel we might need to make, it is even more important to bear in mind that the well-being of those who cannot speak for themselves will often depend upon our willingness to challenge established perceptions and that, on occasion, this will risk causing offence to the very workers we, when they are genuine, least want to offend. That said, I very much doubt that anyone within any of these professions who believes in what they do would argue with my belief in the necessity of this.
If we had followed this simple approach sooner, would it have prevented the sickening abuse of which we are only just becoming aware? Possibly not—though I feel certain in saying that it would most emphatically have made it a lot less likely.
© 2012 Gary William Murning