Or not. There is an adage that bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing. Despite being an old romantic who grew up, and indeed still love, stories of men and women who would risk all to do The Right Thing, I constantly disappoint myself by not living up to that image. Time and again, and I’ve noticed that the more I think about it, the more I notice it (not surprising really), I feel I have let myself down by not speaking up and pointing out something that just isn’t right. Then again, on reflection sometimes I wonder what the Right Thing was. I’ll give examples.
I was walking past the church I have been attending in the North, where the graveyard has been planted with hundreds of daffodils. It’s very pretty and the last few days of sun have brought them all out in flower. Coming back up the hill from seeing my Dad in his nursing home I noticed ahead of me four or five kids, likely in their early teens, in what seems the regulation clothing of kids where I grew up at this point in time, i.e. track pants and hoodie for the boys, leggings and something shapeless for the girls. They were engaged in a wanton act of flower vandalism involving yanking up daffodils and using them as impromptu swords to engage in mortal combat across the road (showing little regard for the traffic but for some reason up my old neck of the woods someone has surgically removed any road sense from all of the kids and most of the adults). As I came up the hill towards the miscreants I was all ready to give them a telling off, but by the time I had reached them they had stopped and now sat chatting (amongst the evidence of their vandalism). I didn’t say anything, but just walked past. A glance back later showed that the game had not resumed.
I wondered at the time if I should have said something, but actually I’m glad I didn’t. For one, I did not need to, my presence was why they stopped, they knew what they were doing was wrong. Secondly, I know what it is like to grow up in an ex mining village in County Durham – very, very boring. So I kind of understand the need to find any source of entertainment. And finally, their de flowering had absolutely no impact on the glory of the overall display. So I will let myself off that one.
However, a few days later I was guilty of inaction. On a brief sojourn South the Lovely Wife and I were enjoying one of our strolls. As we neared home, a young couple in their 20s walked past us deep in conversation. This is not a problem. What was a problem was the young man casually throwing his cigarette packet on the ground and walking on as though this was the most natural thing in the world (well, I guess unfortunately for him that is the case). I should have said something. I should have, at the very least, picked up and disposed of the litter myself. But I didn’t. I looked away and tried to forget. Which, as I am writing this several days later, I have obviously failed to do.
I do not know why I did not say anything. It is not as though I am easily intimidated by someone little more than a boy, and by now the amount of grey in my beard should remind me that I should be getting to that stage of life where speaking your mind becomes mostly automatic. But for some reason I said nothing and missed a chance to perhaps change someone’s behaviour long term – if I am guilty of anything I feel that was my error. Next time, I’ll do better.