Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Playing the hand you've been dealt

Today, the English printed press is almost universal in its choice of lead story. The details have been released of the three perpertrators in the death of 'Baby P' - as he was known to the British public for long after his real name (Peter) was made known elsewhere in the world. Not only have their names been published, but much background information as well.

What emerges in respect of the mother is a picture of a girl with a tragic past and a history of self-absorbed poor choices. In respect of the two men, the picture is of a history of brutality and sadistic tendencies.

The debate rages today as to whether it was wise to have revealed this information. There are fears that this will result in the release of a torrent of anger and hatred from the British public. On one radio show, mention was made of the possible change of identity for the three on their release and of relocation to Canada. I can't imagine that this would be a popular option with Canadians!

As I read the reports, trying to avoid the purple prose of some of the tabloids, I realise that all three of these people were probably subjected to some pretty awful things in their early lives. Things which were bound to have had a negative effect. But I'm here today to say that you don't have to follow the path to its logical conclusion.

My own early life was not a pretty picture and, by the age of 20, I was on track to be a lost cause. I think I can bank on those who know me to back me up when I say that I am not.

I am not trying to big myself up here, by any manner of means. I am just hoping that perhaps even one person whose life looks set on an inexorably negative path will read this and know that it doesn't have to be that way.

You have a choice.

I urge you to summon up the strength for one moment to stop expending all your energy on blaming your parents, your teachers and the system, and take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror. This is where you are now. This is the reality of your life. These are the cards you hold. What happens next is up to you. Take control of it yourself. Choose not to be the victim of your circumstances. Choose to overcome them. Choose to be the very best you that you can be in spite of it all. There are very probably hands reached out to you. Stop being such a stiff-neck and grab hold of them. Go back to school if you want to. Call a helpline if you can. Book yourself in on that rehab programme if you need to. Tell someone what you've decided to do. Take a deep breath. Straighten your shoulders. Lift your chin. Put your hand to the plough. Do not look back.

You can do this.

You can.


Phil Greaney said...

When I heard the perpetrators' stories, I, too, was touched by the difficulties they may have had, whilst remaining clear that even such a tough beginning should never lead inexorably to the horrible crimes they committed, or anything like them.

Their unspeakable crimes will otherwise just help perpetuate the horror of their own childhood; as such they, and anyone faced with such a start, have perhaps one of the greatest responsibilities, and the most difficult: do not pass it on.

Losing your anonymity (despite the likelihood of a lifetime of police protection) is one of those freedoms you give up when you commit crime. In my mind it is simply another facet to the notion of personal responsibility, that you put your hand up to what you have done.

I have been obsessed with personal responsibility for a long time (my later liberal education and love of existentialism made concrete such a belief) - which doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes and blamed anyone but me. Sometimes it has taken me a while to understand the buck stops with me. Only when you do so can you take that responsibility to change.

Karyn this is a compassionate, urgent and thoughtful post, and I thank you for it.

The upsycho said...

@Phil Thanks for your perspective and the encouragement.

I think it's worth adding the flip side of the argument around identification as voiced by a friend on Twitter today, and that is that knowing the identities of the perpetrators might afford us "villains to hate" instead of taking the time to consider the social ills that led to his death.

Phil Greaney said...

Breaking anonymity is a complex matter indeed. However, by making the perpetrators' lives public we do have access to the specifics of their upbringings. As such, we are then able to choose if we either make them 'villains to hate' or if we probe a little deeper, and consider the context of his death and the wider societal ills. Would this have had the same effect - would it even be possible - if their identities had been withheld?

It's a tricky one, because we understand the centrality of personal agency but recognise, too, that social inequities can and do affect us.