The Rubbish King and the Dame
As I listened this week to the Prime Minister announce the ‘cautious but irreversible’ path out of the pandemic, I thought of two people.
The first is Benjamin - a playful small boy called whom I met a few years ago. He had laughing blue eyes and a blonde crew cut - and a puppet with a paper crown. He told me the puppet was called, ‘Rubbish King’. The King had been made of rubbish – by Benjamin’s mum . He had a flesh coloured cloth face, on the neck of the bottle, a fabric ‘cloak’, long blue corduroy locks and a paper crown. As I watched, a smiling Benjamin slowly became ‘Rubbish King’. Holding the King in his hand, Ben got the opportunity to express some of the anger and childish violence he was carrying inside himself. He rushed around, jumping out on children, shouting at them and poking them. He became a perfect illustration of the tendency of all human beings to project on to others – in Benjamin’s case, a puppet - those parts of ourselves that we don’t accept or take responsibility for. Often, when we do it, even the ‘nicest’ of us blame the ‘others’ for qualities that really belong to us. However subtly, we get involved in ‘the blame game’.
The other person I thought of as I listened to the Prime Minister was Dame Louise Casey – the former Homelessness Tsar. At the beginning of the pandemic she was called in to get 'rough sleepers off the streets' to prevent the spread of infection. What now?
Two days before the PM’s speech, The Observer reported Casey’s question: ‘Are we ever going to create a Britain for everyone? And if not now, when?’ The Dame had been gathering statistics about poverty in this country. When the Covid-induced ban on evictions by private landlords ends , homelessness will rise dramatically. ‘By March there will be 6 million people on universal credit, unemployment has doubled, there are 5 million people in debt – 42% of adults report using at least one form of borrowing to cover everyday living costs.' Casey called for us to come slowly out of our houses and start looking around – to become ‘eyes on’.
Our confinement at home with screens and telephones has led to a distortion in our picture of the outside world. While we’ve all been locked up at home with only our screens for company, other pandemics have been brewing.
As we slowly turn our faces outward, as the real extent of the need around us slowly reveals itself - the inequality, the poverty, the neglected physical and mental health problems, not to mention the need for environmental action, how can we express the powerlessness we inevitably feel?
If we haven’t already done so, developing ‘eyes on’ will teach us no one person is responsible for the place in which we find ourselves. Together we are responsible for building a better world.
What each of us can do will become slowly obvious. The one thing we must avoid as much as possible is imitating Benjamin and projecting our anger and anxiety on to someone else! It's not easy but.... let’s leave ‘the blame game’ to children!