Friday, 13 July 2018

On reclaiming decency

Sadly, the notion of decency is often associated with joyless pearl-clutchers expressing disgust at everything from nubile young women in minimal clothing to gay couples having the temerity to get married to anyone having sex outside of heterosexual wedlock. But to automatically link decency to displays of flesh or other people's sex lives is to merely be a pathetic busybody rather than an advocate for genuine decency. 

Indeed, plenty of people who are synonymous with decency are actually pretty terrible - the TV evangelists who inevitably fall from grace when they are caught in bed with people other than their wives while expecting sexual purity - and money - from everyone else, the anti-gay zealots who force people into the closet and inspire homophobic violence, the exposed flesh police who play no small role in creating a vile culture where short skirts and low-cut tops are blamed for rape rather than rapists.

But it is good to see that in the wake of England's surprise performance in the World Cup, decency has been the winner. Gareth Southgate, the team manager, has emerged as a genuine role model - a man who has been humble, respectful and compassionate while still being a strong leader. His young team responded well to this sort of leadership and their World Cup was not marred by scandal or idiotic comments during post-match interviews. Usually when football managers and players end up on the front page rather than the back page of newspapers, it is because they have behaved like dickheads. Not this time. Instead, these fine men made it to the front page because they inspired love, loyalty - and everyone was glad of some temporary respite from stories of catastrophic Brexit negotiations and Theresa May's amazing collapsing cabinet.

Southgate and his team have all been thoroughly decent.

Not so decent were the idiots who jumped on an NHS vehicle and damaged items in an Ikea store after England defeated Sweden in the quarter-finals. In this era of social media, it wasn't long before video footage of these people went viral - the woman involved was quickly identified and has been arrested. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the men involved have not been tracked down. I hope they are found and arrested too.

Inevitably and ridiculously, there were pleas to not ruin the lives of these young people by sharing the videos of them vandalising publicly funded emergency vehicles. "Calm down, nobody died," one tosser moronically opined on a Facebook page. Would he be as sanguine if it was his car that was vandalised, or one of his loved ones experienced a delay in receiving treatment because that NHS vehicle was off the road? 

And the NHS vehicle in this case was so badly damaged that it was taken off the road - the bonnet was dented, the windscreen was shattered, a wing mirror was destroyed and the radio was broken. This is not OK. It is criminal damage and the repair bill will be footed by the taxpayer. 

To deliberately jump on an NHS vehicle is an act of indecency. 

Doing daft things when one is drunk is not unusual but there is a world of difference between nicking a traffic cone to wear as a hat for a selfie and rendering an emergency services vehicle unroadworthy.

Yes, it is very easy to be publicly shamed in this internet era - and for some people, the shaming is unfair and unjustified, or blown out of all proportion. But equally, the internet can make it easy for people to make amends, to publicly apologise or to set the record straight. And just as today's dead tree newspaper is tomorrow's chip paper or kitty litter liner, the content-hungry beast that is the internet means that while the story may live on in Google searches, other stupid things will happen to make people forget about it and move on.

And the existence of the internet does not mean an end to adults taking responsibility for their actions. The woman who was arrested was 21. That means she is considered in the eyes of the law to be responsible enough to drink alcohol, drive a car, get married, join the military, buy property, consent to sex, and vote. The comments on social media about her thighs and body were revolting, unnecessary and irrelevant, but the outrage at someone behaving so irresponsibly was justified, as was the outrage at the fools who were egging her and the other car-jumpers on.

At 21, you are expected to be able to distinguish between right and wrong, to not jump on an emergency vehicle, even when you are drunk or encouraged by other drunks. Howls of "But she's so young! Her life is ruined!" are infantilising nonsense. At what age is it OK for someone to be held to account for this sort of mindless vandalism? I wouldn't expect it of my seven-year-old nephew - if I did catch him jumping on my car rendering it unroadworthy, he would not see the calm side of Aunty George for quite a while and his parents would not be amused either.

The contrast between a small minority showing off the worst of Britain and the decency of Gareth Southgate and his team is immense. His squad was the second-youngest in the tournament and they behaved like grown-ups. Indeed, plenty of much older sportsmen have, over the years, lacked the decency of the England team - I'm looking at you, Shane Warne.

The English squad's conduct on and off the pitch was something to aspire to - the term "role model" is bandied about too often but in this case, it is perfectly apt. The term "decency" is often mocked as old-fashioned, of being from the dull, prudish world of Mary Whitehouse - but in the case of Gareth Southgate and the England squad, we have an example of genuine decency, a decency that does not dwell on the activities in one's bedroom or the brevity of one's clothing because it is much bigger than that. 

True decency is not petty. True decency is not limited to any one religion and it is does not have to involve religion at all. True decency is not self-serving. True decency recognises the good that can be found everywhere. True decency is about showing respect, thinking about the consequences of your actions, taking responsibility, being honest, recognising that you are part of something bigger than yourself. And, sadly, the stories that are once again wiping the World Cup off the front pages show true decency is in very short supply.

Photography by Dean Johnson/Flickr

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