JEP March 30 2017

On reflection, it was the raw power of the photograph, and its associations,  that helped to take me in.

This little Chinese old lady was lying prone on a zebra crossing, flat out on the road.


The headline in the paper above her photo accused the Chinese for being un-neighbourly; unwilling to act as Good Samaritans and help people in trouble.

For me, it pressed so many of the right buttons: helpless and wounded old ladies, abandoned and bereft; moving associations from bible stories and accusations of human and social corruption.

But it turned out that so many important facts were missing from the story up to this point


Apparently the little old lady was not the victim of a car accident or a mugging. She had not been abandoned by selfish neighbours. While she lay there, she had actually being overwhelmed with offers of help. One of the neighbours brought her food and water and bandages. She sent him away for disturbing the tragic scene she had set up.


Ambulances were called three times. But only because the people who called them had not seen the previous ones dismissed with impatience and irritation at having her roadside pantomime interfered with.

What I didn’t know until the end of the peace, was that she was lying down in the road on purpose, to protest against an injustice that somebody had done her.

In this rather provocative article, the reader was being deliberately wound up by the author. He dropped some facts in, and withheld others.

Before ther whole truth was revealed, and we were told that this was acutlaly a geriatric demo in the name of a quest for unobtained justice, the article also began to explore why the Chinese in general were reluctant to act as ‘Good Samaritans’ and help neighbours in trouble.

Before I read the details, I had begun to wonder if there was something intrinsic about a post-Confucian, semi-capitalist Marxist state which quashed the natural goodness I expected to see in people?


Once again, I had been teased into jumping to conclusions without enough facts.

As the article progressed, it turned out that the Chinese weren’t any better or worse than people in the West. It was just that when some people did come to the aid of those in trouble, too often they got accused of having caused the accident themselves-or they could be charged  with being complicit in some way.


On some occasions insurance companies took irrational action against the helpers, just for reaching out with a helping hand. And so faced the threat of trouble for helping those in trouble, people had begun to stand back stand back and became anxiously suspicious and self defensive.

I felt a bit embarrassed by the way that I had allowed myself to be taken in and rush to judgement.


One of the strongest messages in the Christian Gospels is to hold back from judging other people.  Judging, in this context, has nothing to do with trying to assess what a situation is made up from, but everything to do with condemning people morally without having enough information.


Because of course none of us ever does have enough information. It’s hard enough to work out our own complex multi-layered motivation at times, let alone know what’s inside someone else’s head and heart.


I rather enjoyed Leonard Shemi’s New Leftish Dictionary definition of some common nouns.  In this dictionary all these words carry the same basic meaning: – ‘Racist, Homophobe, Bigot, Fascist, Islamophobe and Nazi’. How can they all mean the same? Shemi says that they are just used as terms of abuse. They all define or describe ‘someone who has just won an argument with a progressive’.  It’s what the people who win the argument get called.


Why? Because all too often instead of discussing facts and the interpretation of the facts and the diversity of opinions the facts might attract, the conversation hits the buffers of personal abuse.


One of the things that makes so many people frightened to express an opinion is the speed and contempt with which they may be shut up and closed down by this fast-draw, superficial fact-averse judgementalism.


We have been conditioned to be too fast in attributing bad motivation and corrupt principles to people who may simply disagree with the new social norms.


Instead of being lured into assuming the people called  ‘bigots’ really are narrow minded and dangerously inflexible,  we might if we are sure  how we can tell a bigot from someone who just has a different point of view.  We might ask ourselves if we are confident that we have all the facts. Sometimes the whole picture needs a few frames of video rather than the misleading still photo that hides the before and after.


We don’t always know what we don’t know.