Earlier this month, we took a family holiday down to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. We surfed, skated and became temporary locals at the brewery.
I wanted to focus this blog post on the last day of our trip, where an event unfolded that I found very upsetting to witness. I then reflected upon the event for a few weeks after and I have subsequently written about it. This blog is about unconventional and alternative living choices, but not just in a material sense and how we, as a family, decide to live our individual lives. Our lives are embedded in a wider sociocultural context and the choices we make don’t just impact us; they impact our neighbours, our community. Equally, the choices those around us make impact us.
This blog post exemplifies the paradigm shift that is needed to live in a more equal and harmonious society. The society we all want. But that many of us expect to materialise without individual work. We seem to expect the ‘bad’ people in society to change, without making any effort on our part. Because, our narrative tells us, why should we have to? We aren’t the bad ones so it’s ‘them’ that need to change. Well, I’m here to tell you that is total BS. We all need to play a part in this paradigm shift if we want that higher quality of life.
Here is the story…
“I recently sat outside a bar, enjoying a beer in the middle of Exeter City centre. A cyclist was on their side of the road, when a police car also appeared on that same side, coming towards them. Both stopped and looked at one another. You see, the police car wanted to over-take two buses that had pulled in on their side and in turn, expected the cyclist to mount the kerb, or move out of the way, so that they could drive past.
The cyclist stops, crosses their arms and shouts ‘I’ve got all day, I’m not moving.’ The policeman approaches the cyclist and they verbally spar for a while. The dispute is generally a back and forth of: ‘Why should I ******* move just because you’re the police?’ and ‘If you continue to swear, I’ll book you’. Don’t get me wrong, the cyclist was rude and hostile but not threatening and within their rights.
The policeman, defeated, walks back to his car. And as he opens his passenger door, the cyclist yells ‘Bye tossers’. From here, readers, ensued a sequence of events that astounded and appalled me. The policeman nodded at his female colleague, hurried back to the cyclist, grabbed their arm and twisted it behind their back. The policewoman did the same to the cyclist’s other arm. But this isn’t the worst of it. After standing from my seat and asserting, ‘That is completely unnecessary’, I am admonished by all of the other customers around me. A lady with her kid tells me to ‘Shut up’, a group of men in their early 30’s look at me like I just said the earth was flat and an older couple snap back, ‘They deserve it, they’re being so disrespectful.’
This is a perfect example of how we see ‘bad’ behaviour. Whilst the cyclist was seen as a maverick by most of the people, I saw this person as somebody who has been oppressed by a society that is pervaded by inequality. And that is because of the knowledge I have gained from my studies, research and my occupation (I am in Independent Mental Health Advocate where I support people every week who endure this kind of oppression that has adversely impacted their mental health). I saw the power imbalance between the cyclist (who looked to be from a lower socio-economic class) and the police. I saw the cyclist’s empty social and cultural pockets and how this led to them being placed in a separate, inferior category by their ‘superior’ onlookers, enjoying over-priced beverages. ‘We’ are not like ‘them’.
Society’s narratives have been constructed by the powerful – the legislators, the policymakers, the law enforcers, the media… And such narratives have all contributed to this segregated society which impacted on how this cyclist was treated. On this day, the police represented the very power imbalances by which the cyclist had been suffocated.
How might the cyclist have been perceived in this scenario? Disrespectful, deserving, inferior, separate, trash even? But how often do we consider things such as the enormous impact of childhood experience on the way we see the world as adults. Children who grow up with unreliable parents develop representations of the world as an unreliable and therefore, frightening place. As such, their ability to differentiate between how they feel inside and what is happening on the outside, is stunted. If I feel scared inside, it is because the world is a constantly scary place. If I feel angry inside, it is because the world is a constantly angry place. And what might happen if you can’t discriminate between your internal feelings and external happenings? Self-preserving strategies are adopted, such as aggression and hostility. The other onlookers saw a person who was angry, defiant and therefore ‘bad’, whilst I saw a person who may have felt scared a lot in their lifetime, adopting their method of survival.
There are always wider reasons for behaviour than we first see. The problems don’t lie at the feet of the individuals. They lie in the inequality of our society – the powerful impacting on the powerless; the media creating fear and prejudice in their naive readers. They derive from unpleasant childhoods, which were most likely a result of parents battling their own oppression and austerity measures. The cyclist should be seen as a vulnerable human being who has struggled in an unjust world, not as someone disrespectful an ‘bad’ who should be controlled and isolated, away from ‘us’.
You may have noticed that I did not reveal the gender of the cyclist, or the race, or age. Such components of identity combine to create unique experiences of inequality and discrimination. How might the cyclist have been differently treated if they were female or male? How might the outcomes have been different, or the same, if they were a teenager or an old person? Open your eyes. And when they open, be ready for the fight that comes along with it afterwards – I am still waiting for a reply from the Independent Office for Police Conduct. In the meantime, I am telling my story to as many people as I can to contribute to the paradigm shift in social perspectives that is needed to produce a better and fairer society.”
There it is… my telling of the story, my perception. And I would love to hear your thoughts on this, even if it’s different to mine. Especially, if it’s different to mine. Because how else will we grow? We need to share our different opinions but more importantly, we need to actively listen to them. And that means keeping our egos at bay whilst we listen. Absorb those perceptions, consider them. Because the scariest thing to me about the scenario above, was not the opposing opinions of the other onlookers… but the fact that they weren’t even neutral. They did not even stop to consider my difference of opinion.
I really hope some of them walked away, reflected and thought… ‘maybe that girl had a point’. Which brings me onto my last message… always speak up. If your gut tells you something is unjust, or your voice needs to be heard, advocate. Advocate your heart out. Otherwise you’ll be existing in a society that needs work, rather than living within it.