Sunday 27 November, 2016

A Time Capsule

Running The Poor School has taken all my time. For over 11,000 days my pre-occupation has been how many times the phone will ring, what the post will bring, will nice surprises today outnumber nasty shocks? Now that the school is closing in 15 months this obsessional and possibly unhealthy mode of living is easing. Things I have been dimly aware of come into focus.

For example, in order to leave the country I have to run the gauntlet of several angry, shouting, clattering men and women who slam boxes containing my belongings onto moving platforms, point aggressively at me, demand I do this or that, and who rifle through my private possessions whilst loudly discoursing with their colleagues on unrelated subjects.

leaving gatwick

They finger my 61 year old medications, including Valium and Viagra, with eyebrows raised. I want to say: “It’s ok, I don’t take them both at once” but instinct suggests such a comment may result in a three hour wait in a windowless room, the missing of a flight and the waste of a trip.

Who hires these people? What qualifications are needed? I have been unable to find out. Does anyone know? They need to be stupid enough to think that rage and haste are good things, although anyone with an ounce of life experience knows those characteristics make things take longer. A fundamental personality inadequacy is a pre-requisite, since they confuse temporary and necessary duty involving certain powers with a sense that they are actually superior beings and thus entitled to behave towards us with contempt, to belittle us, to act as though, by our presence, we are spoiling their day and should be made to pay.

It has been pointed out by other commentators that we discover what the State actually thinks of us in situations like this, and that it would treat us like this the whole time if it could. I agree, and also feel that the situation will inexorably worsen until there is meaningful revolt. If we don't do something things will get worse. And worse.

A small amount of leadership would change everything. Other countries do it. Passing through Security in the United States is a different experience and in Israel they search everything, often more than once; they are polite, apologetic, they smile, they don’t rush, they treat everyone, including Arab travellers, the same.

home office

Why is there no mass protest? This bullying abuse is regularly served up to many millions of people, all of whom resent it deeply. That seems like a good base. Might we storm the Home Office and refuse to leave until policy changes? Whoever decides to organise this, let me know.

In the meantime I have a practical part-solution. Make all operatives who come into contact with the public in and around Security wear a 3 or 4 digit number. When one of us feels badly treated we can report the number to the Home Office quoting the date and time, thus identifying the individual. The details don't matter. The Home Office will not have to investigate each complaint, just add them up, identify those about whom a lot of complaints are received, observe and possibly take action. It is not therefore necessary for a passenger to make a fuss or comment at the time and risk missing their flight or worse. What could be simpler? I will be suggesting this to The Home Office and will report back. Don't hold your breath.

Add comment
  • Ben Brown

    Rage and haste are not good things but protest often simply answers rage with more rage. I think the revolution which is most radical is the revolution in our own hearts and minds. If we can face the indignities and frustrations of everyday life with gentleness and love the world, gradually, starts to show back to us the peace we have found in ourselves. Perhaps smiling at the person anxiously waving you through security might cause a lot more change than a complaint?

  • Paul Caister

    I want to thank you for this genuine and humane comment. The employees concerned - the ones we meet - are probably badly paid and badly treated. The treatment they get from passengers is usually passive aggressive, which naturally puts them in a worse mood and I agree it is a cycle of behaviour. The question is whether your approach would create a less bad situation or whether it would merely allow them to gradually treat us worse. Most of us know that we have to do a decent job and that if we don't we will lose our livelihood; for these guys how they treat us doesn't impinge on their job prospects. We get treated badly because they can get away with it and we don't protest because we know the powers that Border Control have and are scared of them. I think this is what angers me most of all. If I get attitude in a post office or from my local council or almost anywhere else I can talk back. Not in Security, not if I want to get my flight. It seems to me uniquely cowardly for them to exploit this as they do. Also we are stressed anyway, we are travelling, catching a flight, trying to look after kids, stuffing toothpaste into plastic bags, dealing with delays. If you can smile serenely through all that then I envy you and I agree that tolerance breeds the same, but there are times when the iron fist needs to be present inside the velvet glove otherwise - so the evidence seems to me - things just deteriorate further. Thus while I appreciate the humanity behind your post I ultimately don't agree. If they won't behave decently naturally then make them; make them fear for their jobs unless they can behave with some respect instead of like cheap bullies. Of course the responsibility lies with the people we don't see, the people who set the agenda and who, in my view, feel that it is a good thing for the proletariat to be kept in their place and constantly reminded who is boss. There are not many historical examples of that kind of attitude being overthrown by zen-like calm.

  • Ben Brown

    I should start by saying that smiling serenely through the stresses of border control is not something I manage often; I am under no illusions that giving back gentleness and peace when you are feeling threatened is a very big ask. Indeed it's a very big ask in all our relationships. Just one day trying to cultivate peace shows you what a mountain we have to climb. But I do believe it is worth the struggle. You say we should make them behave decently and that the iron fist needs to be present in the velvet glove, but isn't the world full of examples of force and iron fists? Look at our politics and international relations and we find dog eat dog and fear are often the order of the day. So I'd agree there aren't many obvious examples of gentleness dis-arming injustice (although Buddha and Jesus are historical examples of people who lived and taught a different way) but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our bit by showing patience and understanding in the stressful situations you describe. There is a great power in discovering, within ourselves, a capacity for compassion and restraint particularly when we feel as if our backs are against the wall and the person in front of us is driving us mad. If we find just a bit of that freedom the challenges of everyday life start to look different and some joy has come into the world. So I'd be a firm believer in interior revolution rather than exterior. At least with interior revolution the only person you overthrow is yourself. The exterior kind of revolution and quite a bit of protest, even when fuelled by the best of intentions, seems to end up playing the old games of aggression and threat.

  • Paul Caister

    The Sermon on the Mount did come to my mind on reading your first post, but neither Jesus, Gandhi nor Martin Luther King were averse to protest. In the 60's there was a particularly effective non-violent method. When the police wanted to disperse a demonstration everyone just SAT DOWN. This caused the authorities no end of trouble, since each demonstrator had to be carried off to custody. I wasn't there but my parents were. I think the policy you advocate so articulately is an excellent method of coping with life but not of changing it. The powers that be are terrified that a people (the British, say) actually realise the strength they have, in numbers if nothing else. I am also one of those who believe that unless the State and its nasty habits are stopped and rolled back then they will simply take further liberties. They are coming for us - those of us capable of independent thought - and whether with words, non-violent protest or other means we or our children will have to fight back.