There is inevitably an unending array of opinion over the recent riots, why they happened, who’s to blame, who should be punished and how. There is no excuse for the violence, damage, destruction of people’s lives, injuries and deaths. Excuses imply that it’s ok. It’s not. But there has to be root cause; reasons. I’m going to focus on two: 1. Our almost obscene consumer society; 2. The absence of encouragement and hope.
I was in Guildford last week, a few days after the first riots in London. I liked it. Guildford is a pretty town, and I spent a pleasant lunchtime in the castle gardens. On the other hand, it is a town of shopping streets. Not just one high street of shops, but two, parallel to each other, linked by short cut-throughs lined with smaller shops. As I walked through a department store from one street to the next, I was struck by the amount of ‘stuff’ available to buy. Shelf after shelf, rack after rack of ‘stuff’; from clothes through to homeware, and everything in between, the vast majority completely unnecessary, but nice to have, if you’ve got the space for it, and can afford it. I live in a much smaller town, and found myself feeling relieved that we don’t have half as many shops, constantly encouraging you to buy more, more, more, whether or not you need it, can afford it, or have space for it. I remembered hearing something about the riot ‘invitations’, “come and get some free stuff”, and how some of the rioters claimed they were “robbing the rich to feed the poor” in true Robin Hood style (although Robin Hood gave it away rather than keeping it for himself).
The paradox is, that a number of these kids will have a lot of ‘stuff’ that I wouldn’t spend my money on: wide screen tv’s, designer trainers and t-shirts, the latest mobile phone, whilst at the same time, I can see that all these other consumer items might feel ‘in their face’ all the time, flaunting a lifestyle they can’t afford.
On the other hand, they have way more than society had not more than 40 or 50 years ago. I was talking to someone this morning, in his late 50’s, who remembers being chuffed with the gift of an orange at Christmas; and my friend’s mother walked the 6 miles to school barefoot so not to ruin her only pair of shoes.
But it seems that the one thing that both these people had which many of these kids don’t, is someone giving them HOPE and ENCOURAGEMENT, to work hard at school, to learn to read and write well, understand maths, that their creative talent is worth nurturing; that if they put their mind to it, they can be anything they want to be, that they’re special, unique, amazing individuals. A social worker friend of mine had to assess some of these kids post the riots, and the overall view, and the excuse they gave, was that there’s no hope of them having a good life, backed up by the parent with them, who confirmed, “Yeh, I told them that.” There’s the root of the crime.
So, what’s the solution? What if everyone was taught at school the importance of encouraging every child in their life, whether they become a parent or not, but especially if they’re a parent. It would be a crime not to. And what if every child who currently believes they have no Hope, is given a mentor, someone who will give them the emotional support and encouragement they need which isn’t available at home, to help them build their dreams, and make them come true. Maybe it sounds idealistic, but the free world was built on ideals and Hope, not the absence of it.
Where do I sign?