THE Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Really? That’s who we’re having a go at now? People who volunteer to risk their lives to save other people’s lives? People who last year saved 349 people, a rate of almost one saved soul a day. Isn’t that just a bit mad?
But because they have been doing their humanitarian work pulling migrants out of the sea they have been targeted by the usual suspects over the last few days.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It happened, after all, in a week which has also seen certain members of the commentariat have a go at Olympic athletes for not winning gold or for not competing when they felt it was a danger to their health. Maybe it’s only to be expected given that we now live in a country where anti-vaccination protestors last weekend called for nurses and doctors to be hanged.
But maybe it’s important to keep all this in context. Listen, we can point out that the politics of grievance are on top these days. We can acknowledge that there are people who – for want of attention or because they want to monetise anger – keep poking sticks into the ribs of the rest of us.
We can despair that it’s not just social media but the mainstream media who keep giving these same people platforms to promulgate this shouty, performative nonsense (and, in passing, prove that those who shout loudest about cancel culture seem never to have to worry about being cancelled themselves whatever they say).
But let’s not give them the attention. They don’t deserve it.
Let’s also remember that this anger is neither normal nor widespread. Though we live in a divided country and have done for some time, this reductive, binary shoutiness is not a true reflection of who we are. Life is nuanced. And larger than either social media or elements of the mainstream media allow.
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Just look at what people do. In 2020, not by any means a normal year for any of us, some 93 per cent of the Scottish population gave money, time or goods to a charity. In a challenging year for funding, members of the public in the UK donated some £5.4billion to charities between January and June last year, £800 million more than over the same period in 2019, while 10 million of us volunteered to help in our local communities during the early months of the coronavirus crisis. This is who we are.
One can argue that political debate in the UK and elsewhere has coarsened in recent years. You can worry about what the consequences of that might be. Or – and I’m thinking of the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 – have already been.
But outside the bad pantomime that all too often stands in for politics in this country, people of all political persuasions are going out of their way to help others. The RNLI, after all, has some 35,000 volunteers and counting around the country. They deserve our support, our respect and our gratitude.