Monday, 9 September 2013

Do as you would be done by

No wonder prisoners in Guantanamo Bay complained of music torture in 2008! One report declared that the same five pieces of music blared relentlessly through the loudspeakers strategically placed around the detention facility. Apparently it was not the volume which caused the problem as much as the unending monotony of the selection which nearly drove inmates crazy.

As a result of Clapham’s August Bank Holiday weekend, perhaps the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay had little cause for objecting. Perhaps the music festival on the Common and the fairground less than 100 yards away both kept their sound levels within legal limits. To residents, the noise from one music festival plus one fairground still meant double the overall volume of disturbance.

Three days of a constant rhythmical pounding of drums (no music could be heard above them), from 11.00am until 10.00pm quickly had more than nuisance value. Windows rattled. Doors shook – and still the seemingly endless din continued. Double glazed windows offered no protection. Earplugs did not work. Complaints had little effect. As a result of raising grievances, music festival event organisers sent a technician to measure their own sound levels to ensure compliance with legislation. “It’s not us. It’s them”... and he left, happily justified that he had done his job. The fairground? A group of men shrugged their shoulders. They could not see what the trouble was: without loud music, who would know that there was a fair as well as a music festival?

Meanwhile local residents felt trapped, the sick and the housebound more so than the mobile, some of whom, driven from their homes, became refugees beyond the Clapham boundaries and the constant noise. Others, their weekend spoiled by others’ thoughtlessness, waited longingly for that blissful moment when, at 10.00pm, blaring loudspeakers at last became silent.

Yet the thoughtlessness of the few against the many did not only affect Clapham residents and their aching eardrums. Elsewhere the lack of consideration and thinking ahead led to generous individuals risking their lives to rescue unnecessary victims. In one of its busiest summers on record, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) said that, this summer, the number of rescues performed by its courageous and unpaid volunteers has increased by more than one-third over those of 2012. The Newhaven lifeboat recently reported fourteen launches in a single month. This summer has also witnessed the tragic heroism of rescuers who lost their lives in saving others. A fisherman who worked on trawlers in the North Sea once remarked, “We know the sea and are afraid of it”. Often, the emergencies have been entirely avoidable, but, yet again, people just did not think ahead or listen to advice. As the proverb declares, ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’.

A man recently needed the services of a North Wales Mountain Rescue team because, by way of a change, he wanted to climb a mountain in Snowdonia by night. Close to the summit, he discovered that he carried the wrong map of the area and felt vulnerable on finding that he did not know his way in the dark. On a mild, starry night and in no immediate danger, why did he not simply wait until dawn, when he would see a well-marked path, trodden annually by countless thousands of visitors? Why summon the search and rescue helicopter?

There are the genuine emergencies which happen when ill-equipped and inexperienced individuals suddenly become selectively deaf, ignoring expert advice not to climb, walk the fells or sail in the prevailing weather conditions. There are those who always carry an umbrella “in case it rains”. Yet, as soon as they see a blade of grass and the open countryside, they seem to believe that suitable footwear and clothing are unnecessary. Sooner or later, they are surprised to find themselves stranded, perhaps seriously injured or in a life-threatening situation and call for help. Many rescuers must have thought, “If only you had listened to my warning in the first place, this never would have happened”.

People always find it easier to point the finger at someone else rather than to accept responsibility for wrongdoing. All of us can make excuses. Children are experts. Somehow all sorts of things happen “just like that”. The difficulty is that some people do not grow up. What happens when the matter is serious and many lives are at stake?

The news at present is filled with constant reports from Syria and Egypt. In Syria, first of all the Government and then the opposition blamed each other for appalling bloodshed, violence and devastation. The air is filled with cries of, “I didn’t do it. He did!” That is the sort of blame game to be expected of small children, not of grown adults and so-called Heads of State. It is far more serious when the mutual shifting of responsibility surrounds the use of chemical weapons with thousands of casualties and hundreds of deaths. The many innocent victims are helpless in the face of the overwhelming lust for power of the few.

It is easy to see the horrors perpetrated at a distance and to be unaware of those closer to home. The time-wasting 999 call might divert emergency services from a genuine emergency when a rapid response means the difference between life and death. On one occasion, an emergency control room received a trivial 999 call about poor restaurant service at the same time as a witness reported a hit and run accident involving a young child. At least three times this week in London, someone has committed suicide in front of a moving train: how many were facilitated by the thoughtlessness, selfishness and perhaps undisguised cruelty of others?

Pope Francis, when he visited the shanty town in Rio de Janeiro pointed out that giving "bread to the hungry," while required by justice, is not enough for human happiness. Thoughtlessness and selfishness need to be replaced by consideration. A policeman complained as he returned from a major road accident with multiple fatalities, “People enjoy the speed and the added danger of swerving around corners and between lines of traffic. They forget that I am the one who has to deal with the immediate consequences. I am the one who helps to pick body parts off the road. I am the one who has to go to the family and break the news. I am the one to go home to my family and cannot let the traumas of my day overflow onto my wife and children. People see that I am a policeman, but they forget that I am also a human being, a husband and a father.”

In The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Mrs Be-Done-By-As-You-Did was a stern, inflexible woman who taught the babies that if they did not like someone’s behaviour, then it is best not to imitate it and inflict those same actions on someone else. If I believe that I deserve respect and consideration, then I must respect and consider others, however difficult or inconvenient that might be. Clapham’s weekend of music torture might seem trivial to some. The same cannot be said of the emergency service personnel who risked their own lives to save the thoughtless.

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