The Blog

From Litter to Daniel Pelka to Syria, Are We in Danger of Becoming a 'Walk on By' Society?

I am no longer in the military, and I have noticed something. Something worrying, disturbing. A creeping selfishness. A walk-on-by attitude. A somebody else's problem out look where if something doesn't directly effect someone, they will do nothing about it.

I spent 25 years in the military. The abiding principle of military service is that service itself. Service before self. Your mate, your buddy, your team, your unit, your organisation, your nation, your people. It is all about thinking about how you can help the person next to you - because in doing so, you help the next level up that chain all the way up to helping the whole country; doing the bidding of the nation through the government.

And as a serviceman - you just do it. It becomes second nature. You look after your buddy. Because if you look after them, they will be able to look after you. When I arrived in Afghanistan, I was the only RAF man in a Check Point of 40 Paras. I expected that life was going to be tough, that I would be ignored and left alone. Not at all, they welcomed me, checked my kit, organised my pack and what I carried so that my kit carried matched the reality of the ground and the situation I was in. The could have walked on by and left me to myself - but they didn't. They knew that if they helped me, their life would be easier, and I could then perform better on the ground and be a better part of the team...of the community that we were part of.

But I am no longer in the military, and I have noticed something. Something worrying, disturbing. A creeping selfishness. A walk-on-by attitude. A somebody else's problem out look where if something doesn't directly effect someone, they will do nothing about it.

Around the village I live in, people walk by litter. People don't pick up their dog's mess on the pavement. It's a low level of walk-on-by...but it is here where it starts. And where does it end? It ends with Stafford Hospital. It ends with Baby P. With Daniel Pelka. To objecting to help Syrians gassed by their government.

It's a big just from some litter dropped by kids in the park, to a regime gassing their own people with chemical weapons, but the levels are there. If what happens doesn't directly effect you and your life; if you can walk around a corner and forget about what you have seen...if you can lock yourself inside your house and close off the world to yourself, then why worry about it? Why do something about it? One of the biggest arguments I heard against intervention is that the situation 'isn't our problem' - that we always intervene and 'somebody else should do it'. People being gassed is not our problem? People dying is somebody else's responsibility to sort out? We should have done more far earlier before 100,000 people were killed in a pointless civil war that will only have one outcome in the end anyway - the removal of the regime (hell, no regime lasts forever).

The Daniel Pelka case review makes terrible reading. Agencies not communicating with each other. Teachers raising a report and then carrying on without any further input. People not challenging the parents. Not talking to the child. Walking on by past his suffering. In the Khyra Ishaq case, rights of the mother were considered, but not her responsibilities. She wasn't challenged, learning from the case was not passed on. Peter Connelly - Baby P - was failed by carers who lacked urgency and were incompetent. In all cases the approach was inadequate, communication failed, there was no follow through, the agencies were not joined up.

This is all very depressing. It leads to the terrible idea that the nature of the human being is to be uncaring, to walk-on-by. To only care about themselves. We are happy to pump out car exhaust carbon dioxide and raise the temperature of the earth, but not care about polar bears dying because the ice they live on is melting. If it doesn't effect us, we can walk on by. It's a sad indictment of ourselves as a species and as a society. We are turning into a culture where we are happy to say something is very sad, and someone should do something about it, but we are overwhelmed by the amount of things to do. If we start to have to do something, then we feel we have to do everything and that is just too much. We live busy lives (so we are told - doing what exactly?) and so we do very little about what matters. People walk-on-by. And if we walk on by the litter, we can simply say 'something must be done' about the state of child protection - but not actually do anything about it ourselves. We can let people die in hospitals, left in filthy sheets by organisations that pressure people to chase targets and not quality of care. We can eventually say that a genocide carried out in another country is 'somebody else's job' to sort out. We should, as a society, as a nation, be ashamed that we let these sorts of things carry on.

And I don't know why. I can't figure it out? People are, on the whole, caring, loving, generous people. We give to charity in great quantities even though our own incomes are pushed and squeezed - Help4Heroes and Children In Need make record amounts of charity income each year, but we live in areas that are dirty, full of litter. In a nation where people die in situations are easily avoidable. Are we assuaging the guilt of rushing past a beggar on the street by rushing home and texting Sport Relief and donating to them? I don't know the answers.

But it is not all bad. There are those that do oppose this sinking of our society into selfishness. I followed the village vicar up the lane yesterday, and watched as he picked up the litter dropped by children at the bus-stop that morning. We read about Amanda Donnelly and her daughter - the so called Angel of Woolwich - who stopped their care to sit by the dying body of Trumpeter Lee Rigby. About Tina Nimmo who tried to restore some sort of order at the scene of that murder. We hear about the soldier in Afghanistan who threw himself on a hand-grenade to save the lives of his patrol mates.

We has the capacity do so so much evil, and to let other people get away with that evil, but we should fight it at every stage. We should fight the failures in child protection, not just say 'why wasn't something done' but pressure for changes in the system, so that targets and paperwork are not the important issues - but the people involved in the cases are the important issues. There is no difference to walking on by some litter to not reporting a worry of child abuse heard through the wall of next doors house. If we let it go on, we will sink slowly as a society and as a nation. We should take the example of those who challenge, of those who do 'do something'. We should all 'do something today'. We might not save a life, but we might make our lives and the lives of those around us a little bit better. And that link will be passed on up the chain and the world will be a better place, because, the world is what we make it.