Swimming away from empathy: The Laxey Bay debacle
The ‘a few bad apples’ metaphor has, over time, been used to defend the actions of supposedly rogue police officers. Those under the arm of the law who, perhaps, enjoyed the uniform, the baton, the shiny badge and the power a little too much. The bully at school in a position of authority, now making up for lost time. Misconduct, abuse of power, small man syndrome. Call it what you will. But history is littered with examples of politicians scrambling to defend their institutions for fear of public unrest. See Rodney King, George Floyd, Sarah Everard for further evidence.
But what if the bad apple is one of us and it is the police who must root it out? Where the majority are good apples and all it takes is one, rotten Gala Pink Lady Granny Smith Fuji Motherfucker to bring us all to mulch. At 6:00am today, police were called to Laxey Beach and arrested a man. A man who was warned the day prior, along with 15–20 people who were found swimming with him in Laxey Bay.
It is, admittedly, testament to the insanity of the times that ‘Man arrested for swimming’ is a headline but here we are.
Reading this news, I had a guttural reaction. I was jolted, wide-eyed and bursting with indignation. I rushed to my Whatsapp messages, that giddy thrill of the unread. It was an outrage, an aberration! People have sacrificed so much. We were supposed to be in this together. Loved ones died alone… family members watching the light leave their eyes through a dodgy Zoom call.
But then. Wait a second. Who is this chap? It’s a communal thing. Right, right. Everyone is socially distancing? Ok, righto. People that live in the same house. Sure, I see. Scrolling though the comments section — always such a wise choice…
What about social distancing in Shoppers, someone says. They went to buy some essential aubergines and were fondled in the veg aisle by a maskless elderly lady! This country has gone to the dogs! Lock them all up! Snowflake social justice warriors! Rule Britannia 🇬🇧
It’s a lot to process.
And, like most anything these days, it unfolds as a tribal drama in the online realm. This virtual gladiatorial Coliseum of fury, apoplectic bile and cantankerous opinion. If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that everyone has a lot of opinions. Does anyone miss the days when you weren’t really sure about stuff? When you didn’t have to nail your colours to the mast? Just drifting through life, idly thinking about cheese or remembering Mr. Oizo apropos of nothing as you bite into a Twix. Simpler, happier times.
Now, it seems our identities are so entwined within our opinions. Opinions we are encouraged to imbue with the immediacy of the breaking news reporter; opinions we must state with the categorical conviction of the vociferous preacher; opinions we can never deviate from. For you see, to change your opinion is viewed as weakness. It undermines the validity and weight of your argument. Changing your mind is akin to having no opinion at all. You are an online outcast, condemned to bathe in the pools of irrelevance.
Having said all that…here’s my opinion. I’ve got a brand to sell, after all.
I read somewhere that adulthood is holding two diametrically opposing opinions in your head at the same time and finding worth in both. It’s why children see things so definitively. It’s why my son, for example, proclaimed today to be ‘the worst day of his life’ even though all that happened of note was something in Fortnite that I’ll never understand nor care about.
I think it’s ok to empathise with the plight of all of us, including the swimmers, during this pandemic. We are all, in myriad ways, suffering. We are all compromising. However. Is there a scale to empathy? If so, perhaps more should be reserved for those who have witnessed the darker corners of this wickedness? This devastation that has infected our collective psyches, our basic sense of decency, almost as much as our bodies. Spare your applause and instead lend your empathy towards the healthcare professionals working amidst this suffocating fear; this deathly gloom. Before you don your swimming cap, maybe take a moment to think of the families directly impacted. Where lives have been taken from them without mercy and removed all customs of humanity in the process. And what of the multitudes of the already seriously mentally unwell who, if they muster up the energy to get dressed, consider that a win against the demons lurking in their head? A pre-organised swimming get-together, after being warned and fully aware of the rules in place, is, at best ill-advised and at worst, flagrantly disrespectful to the abiding. The sacrificing. The suffering.
The mental health question is a complicated one. There has been stellar work done over the past few years and it is now, a discussion embedded deep within our culture. And rightly so. Surely now though is the time for the next phase of this discussion? Moving beyond ‘raising awareness’ or ‘breaking the stigma’. Now, it is time for people far more qualified than I, to navigate the travails of this ongoing educational piece. The next stage must be towards a separation from diagnosing normal emotional responses to events from a legitimate mental health concerns. Feeling fed up about the crappy lockdown life is valid but is it a mental health issue? The language is skewed now and a lot of that is down to corporate skullduggery. I’m sure many of you will recognise the anodyne, empty and vacuous statements from your own workplace. This commodification of mental health, which does little more than devalue the severity of those truly in peril. The gift-wrapped and hashtagged falsities that demean and deflect. Sloganeering co-opted in the name of commerce, serving as little more than publicity for companies in search of their compassion accreditation badge. Get fucked.
Make no mistake, there is a mental health crisis on this Island. Lockdown certainly isn’t helping with that.
There are few of us enjoying this compromised, purgatory life. Where basic human freedoms are wrenched from us. The loss of what connects us to one another: a hug, a kiss, shared laughter, the simple and wonderful human experience; all gone. Or, at least, all condemned to a facsimile of what we once had. And yet, it’s only been four weeks…we can do better. Can’t we?
There are questions to be asked here rather than fingers to be pointed like heretics. Have our politicians dropped the ball here? Are the police in a difficult position due to the ambiguity of some of the messaging? Most importantly, do we want to return to what we had? If we do, then rather than come apart at the seams, perhaps it is better to unite.
Sadly, social media exists to do anything but. It is the real-time soap opera where all of us have a role.