Outrage is not enough

24 10 2010

Yesterday I was working from home as I was having a new boiler fitted. The installation engineers took 12 hours to fit the boiler and to reduce my home to something akin to Beirut after the fighting stopped. The noise and general disruption meant that I wasn’t able to do the work I had planned and so spent the day catching up on e-mails, checking LinkedIn invitations to connect and in particular I spent more time on Twitter than is safe for one’s sanity.

The tweet doing the rounds concerned 5 kittens that had been found hanged at a shopping centre in Aberdeen. I have no reason to assume that my pals are all ailourophiles or particularly tuned in to grim news so it made me wonder why so many people pass on these types of story. A similar case, but with a happier outcome for the cat concerned, that of the ‘cat in the bin’ dominated the headlines for many days. Is it just that we are a nation of animal lovers? Clearly we can’t all be as the stories of cruelty wouldn’t abound.

So why do stories of cruelty to children, women, the elderly not go viral in the same way. One possibility is that the horror of these stories of these human tragedies is just too great – they are beyond the comprehension of most people. Maybe we don’t pass on these stories as they are just too dreadful. But when these stories are presented to us, as with Baby P and James Bulger, we are all animated beyond belief and the media are encouraged to uncover every grizzly detail for our edification and to fuel the demands for retribution against the perpetrators, whether that be the actual killers or everyone else who is involved, however tangentially, in the story and onto whom we can heap blame.

But when the news becomes old news we all go back to our lives. We all know that there are thousands of children being abused, neglected and mistreated everyday but until and unless a tragedy occurs of the proportions of the Baby P case we trust the authorities to get on with the job of looking after these cases on our behalf so that we don’t have to think about the society we live in and the roles and responsibilities we each have

Greater Manchester Police recently conducted an experiment on Twitter. It released details of every single call that came into the force over a 24 hour period. The idea was to show the public what it had to deal with during the course of a normal day. Most of us don’t give much thought to what the police do on a day to day basis, only concerning ourselves if we are the victims of crime or of police malpractice. This is true for most things. We don’t look for information but are ready to respond when the information is placed right under our noses.

A perfect example of this is the TV fund-raising spectacular. Not many of us wander the streets at night looking for homeless people to help but when Comic Relief brings pictures of hardship into our living room we do, at least, put our hands in our pockets to fund those that do devote their time to offering practical help and support.

I find myself wondering whether it would be useful exercise for social services departments, for example, to undertake a similar experiment to Greater Manchester Police; to tweet the brief details of cases they investigate every day. If we saw the huge list of children who are neglected, abused or simply disadvantaged by living in poverty or in a dysfunctional family, would we create a twitter storm akin to caused by that caused by the death of the 5 kittens.

Maybe if the actual stories of the children suffering in our society were placed right in front of us on our twitter screens we would be moved to act as well as to spread the story – or maybe we prefer not to see the world as it really is.

Outrage is not enough.

We can’t all do everything but we can all do something to engage with the community and society we live in.

It is not acceptable to leave others to manage things for us and then rage when failings result in tragedies.

Outrage is not enough.

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