Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Rationalising



The Girl has a fascination with history, and has collected several children’s books on ancient Egypt alone. When we visited the British Museum in London a few weeks ago, she most remembered tiptoeing wide-eyed through the Egypt room, dwarfed by stone monuments of men and gods. So when we went camping a few nights ago and huddled in the rain under the tent, we read about Rome and talked about slaves.

“I wish I could have lived back then and freed the slaves, as Lincoln did," she said.

I'm proud of you for saying so, I said, but it's never easy -- Lincoln was killed for it, and so were many others before it was settled. 

"Or I wish I could go back with lots of money, so that I could buy lots of slaves and treat them really well, instead of working them to death.”

I’m glad you’re thinking of others, I said, and it’s a good thought, but crossing that line is dangerous. If you let yourself think it’s okay to have slaves, because you’re not as bad as someone else, you’re still doing the thing that’s wrong.

“I know, but wouldn’t that have made so many people’s lives better?” Sure, I said. And sometimes you have to take part in a system that’s wrong, because there’s no choice. But it’s very easy to start doing wrong – you make excuses for doing what you want to do. For example, you can say, ‘Everybody does it,’ or ‘Somebody else would have anyway,’ or ‘I’m not as bad as this other person.’ But if you always do that …Well, how many people are there in the world?

“Billions?” she said. Right, I said. There’s always someone worse, someone that lets you be not as bad as. You see what I mean?

She looked for a moment like a switch had been turned. “So everyone can get really bad without seeing it, because we’re all looking at someone else.”

Right, I said. There are plenty of bad people in the world, and that’s why everyone loves to hear about them on the telly, because then we all get to not be as bad as them.

Photo: The prisoner's gates at the Tower of London, where the condemned were brought in boats.

1 comment:

Andy Brown said...

I'm reminded of that line in the Desiderata: "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."