01/02/2016 06:36 GMT | Updated 29/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Don't Take the Mick

Watching the news recently I realised there are two dominant instincts of British character which dictate how we respond to many of the issues of the day.

The first is a natural generosity: this is shown in the very real response to charitable appeals like Comic Relief, and the about turn in public opinion when we saw pictures of drowned children on Turkish and Greek beaches. This first instinct is rivalled by a second: the desire not to be taken advantage of - an attitude of 'don't take the mick'. I have seen both of these played out side by side in East End pubs in London. While people have given generously as a charity box or a sponsorship form has gone round, at the same time the those present have been in full voice about 'spongers' and angry about being taken advantage of.

Recent items that have come up in the news, like the renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU (with the primary focus on migrants and benefits), and Google agreeing to pay a small amount of tax, lean on the 'don't take the mick' side. Politicians and media seem unable to reconcile the two positions. Often the debate is inflamed with discussion of 'fairness' which, as any of us with children know, is the merely a justification of a selfish position or intent. Fairness, it seems to me, is always a subjective position: this way is fair because I like it; that is unfair because it doesn't work for me. Surely it would be better to engage with ideas of justice. When I was a child and cried "That's unfair!" my father would reply, "The world is unfair, son" - a seemingly fatalistic position from someone who has often received 'unfair' treatment. However, if it was ever a case of injustice, this would elicit a very different response from him.

Recently a friend told me that in the lead-up to the 2015 election he and his wife did an online policy checker - the sort of app that asks you questions and then suggests which party's policies you are closest to. He was taken aback by the results. As a life-long Labour supporter, many of his answers suggested that he was leaning towards a UKIP position. Then he realised why. He and his wife were working with many at the fringes of UK society: those who were facing housing issues, were recent arrivals, and the lonely and isolated. He knew that some of these people were caught in the system, but that others were taking advantage of it. This had affected his responses to the online questions. But crucially it didn't stop him showing compassion, drawing the isolated into relationship and confronting issues with them when necessary. In this he demonstrated generosity and justice, while still at times facing the fact that some were 'taking the mick'.

In the end we all know that if we are truly generous, we will be taken advantage of. Our fingers will be burnt. But some of the people I have been most impressed with are those who have given and done what they think to be right, even when their generous posture has been abused. Their position is not based on passing emotion, but on conviction.

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