I apologise for the nature of this morning’s topic (you’ll see why in a moment) but it is absolutely necessary: I’ve been thinking this morning about who the heroes are in our society and, more specifically, which qualities we value. I’m not sure we have many heroes any more – or if we do, they’re sort of provisional heroes; people we admire and stick on a pedestal and of whom we make ridiculous demands, but who inevitably at some stage show that they have feet of clay and so fall from that state of grace. Perhaps the most transient of heroes are sporting ones, who can fall from being practically deities to a state of deepest villainy in one week. Political heroes likewise are apt to fall fast and fall hard, though we are more inclined to view them with a jaundiced eye nowadays. Some people seem to regard industrialists and entrepreneurs as heroes, though I find that very hard to stomach; but what is true is that we seem to value intelligence – at least in theory – above many other qualities. Hence the latest panic about iodine in the diet of pregnant women affecting the intelligence of the baby:
Now I’m not arguing with the idea that this is significant; I’m simply questioning the overall value which as a society we put on intelligence. Intelligence is important, but more important still is what you do with it. And we have far too many examples before us of what intelligence can achieve when divorced from compassion – and yet we hear about compassion in the news not at all. No guidance is given us as to how to develop our compassion; no instructions are readily available online or in books; nobody debates about the value of developing compassion in our children – and yet without compassion we are sunk. To paraphrase the traditional quotation, ‘Be good, sweet man, and then you can be clever.’
Gosh! It’s amazing what you learn from this blog – I never knew that was by Charles Kingsley:
Anyway, I said I apologise for the nature of this blog and you are about to find out why. Once I met a woman – I don’t remember where; perhaps on the bus or in the supermarket queue (incidentally have you noticed how you don’t chat so much to people in the supermarket queue any more? I blame these automated tills – I never use them if I can help it) – and we got talking. She said she was off to work.
‘Oh, what do you do?’ I asked.
‘I’m a care worker,’ she said.
I was surprised. Normally care workers have a ‘ground-down’ look, or else a deeply resentful demeanour: this woman looked so happy she was almost radiant.
‘What kind of care work?’ I asked her.
‘I look after the elderly in their homes,’ she explained. ‘I visit them once a day and evacuate their bowels.’
Now, that was rather more information than I wanted, but I was still struck by her demeanour, so I carried on the conversation. ‘That must be unpleasant,’ I said. ‘Don’t you mind it?’
She smiled again. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘I just get a glove on and stick my hand up there – and they’re really grateful. It makes my day.’
So I think that if anyone in our society is a hero, it’s this woman. To evacuate someone’s bowels for (I surmise) very low pay is almost the epitome of heroism, and I would make anyone aspiring to high office in whatever capacity, work at this job for at least a year to give them some perspective. I like to think that if Mark became incapacitated to such an extent that he couldn’t crap, I would evacuate his bowels for him. Actually, that’s not something I like to think at all – but I hope I’d do it, all the same.
Surely society would be better if we all did that? *
Oh no – I’ve activated Daniel Dennett’s ‘surely’ alarm. But more on that tomorrow, for now I must away…
*And no, I don’t mean ‘if we all came round and evacuated Mark’s bowels! (Form an orderly queue, now…)