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Saturday 20 November 2010

Sentimental Suffering

It’s a wonderful thing, I think, that Kate Middleton was descended from – obviously among others - a northern miner and a lorry driver and yet was educated at one of the most prestigious schools and universities in Britain and is marrying their heir apparent to the throne. It shows that, contrary to what the victim mentality of the welfare state would have us believe, no one is bound by the circumstances of their birth or family. Grammar Schools, like the one I attended (free of charge!) and loved (Notre Dame, Leeds), were disbanded by a socialist government that believed that they created a division between classes. In my school there were children who came from very wealthy families, the daughters of professional people, and the daughters of all kinds of workers and unemployed people. The pupils came from a wide area from the inner-city, to suburbs, to places out in the country. There was a board on the wall, inscribed with the names of people who had gone on from there to achieve a university degree (dating back to the days when women didn’t get degrees) but by the time I attended the school, the names had become so numerous that they had stopped filling it in and it was removed soon after. When the socialist government put an end to that and said it was an unfair system, schools drew together people who, regardless of their particular gifts – whether academic or practical or a mixture of the two – all lived in the same catchment area so people only mixed with the people who came from a similar background. And that was an attempt not to make everyone equal but to make everyone the same.

People are not the same, in my opinion, nor are they equal, if equality is synonymous with ‘same’. A large oak tree is not the same as a small crocus, though each can be beautifully awe-inspiring, and a park filled with only oak trees isn’t half as interesting as one which is filled with the variety of trees, creatures, tiny shrubs, little bugs, giant water plants, exquisite Birds of Paradise, sparrows and huge crows.

It has often seemed to me that there is a tendency to cater to the lowest common denominator, rather than fixing our eyes on the best that we can be. I have known children who cannot write a sentence but who can sew the most most beautiful embroideries or cook the most beautiful dishes but they were told they needed to have some meaningless qualification in order to be recognised. Cooking lessons went out of schools, to be replaced with ‘food technology’ – but some people were brilliant cooks who were made instead to write essays about cooking in order to gain some pointless qualification because someone once had the idea that it required a qualification to verify your worth! I have known people in psychiatric hospitals who draw the most brilliant pictures but who were labelled as ‘mentally ill’. Let the cooks cook; let the artists paint or draw; let the academics study; let the crocuses be crocuses and let the oak trees be oaks trees and let everyone, in each subsequent generation achieve all s/he can achieve.

Sadly, I have also known people who spend their lives saying, “It isn’t fair....the rich get richer....and we are poor, underprivileged, sick, oppressed....” and the worst possible response to that is to agree with it because in so doing we perpetuate that myth.

At risk of sounding like a terrible old Scrooge or something like that tonight....It is the evening of ‘Children in Need’. Truly I would give my last penny to raise anyone from any difficulty in which s/he temporarily found himself, but nowadays there is an endless series of tales of woe, all of which are presented as heroic. Sick children are always described as ‘brave’. Healthy children do not have such an accolade. We endlessly, endlessly, endlessly cater to the victim and I wonder often about the children who are not suffering, who are not apparently ‘in need’ but who are trying to find their own way in the world. Those who suffer are given holidays in lovely places; trips to America; hailed as heroes....In fact anyone who is ill is hailed as hero on the local news nowadays.

Perhaps if we began to look more at success, at hailing the healthy, admiring the differences between people, acknowledging the wonder in all of us, we wouldn’t need this victim-stuff or this sentimentalising of suffering...If we want to end suffering, we need to stop honouring it, don't we?

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