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[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]
It’s generally accepted that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. The distinction, fortunately you might say, only applies to a fraction of humanity.
The majority of us tend to fall somewhere in the middle, for better or for worse.
The narrow corridor
That being the case, there’s another set of more pertinent opposites where the balance is also quite delicate: the line between being helpful and being harmful.
One’s life, consciously and unconsciously, mentally and physically, is, for the most part, spent traipsing the helpful/harmful middle ground.
But, you might say, being deep in helpful territory is a good place to be, so just try to manoeuvre yourself there. Well, the thing is, you can’t be ‘deep in it’. It’s a narrow corridor where you’re never too far away from crossing into harmful ground.
In other words, while you might think that being uberly helpful is nothing but good, there’s a high chance you’ll end up inflicting harm on not only the recipients of the “kind” act, but on yourself as well. It’s like the old adage, ‘Give a man a fish and he has food for a day, teach a man to fish and he has food for life.’ (In this particular instance, the potential trouble for the giver is future resentment from the receiver — ‘What?! You’ve no more fish to give me!’ — which could result in conflict.)
Dissecting that saying further, very often it’s the short-term help that, if not immediately harmful, ends up leading to even bigger problems down the line.
For a pertinent example in light of the times, take the anti-police, Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Data show that they tend to be accompanied by an increase in civilian-on-civilian homicides in the black communities from which they emanate. Go ahead, have less policing, but be prepared for the nasty consequences. Considering recent events in Bogotá, Colombia would do well to take note — this is not to make little of the many problems with policing and other state law enforcement agencies in this country.
On a macro level, despite the fact that today most of us can expect to live longer compared to our predecessors, this hasn’t resulted in ‘playing the long game’. On the contrary, in our on-demand society, it’s a case of ‘now, now, now’.
‘The pandemic has only reinforced the on-demand way of life and, it can be argued, increased societal polarization, as well as inequality.’
It makes sense, in some ways. As most of our needs — from a Western World perspective in any case — can be satisfied by the mere touch of a button, many people appear to have lost the “virtue” of patience. If there’s not an instant solution, forget about it. So we really only have ourselves to blame when our leaders react accordingly. Any visionaries soon learn that the real trump card (an innocent turn of phrase, honestly) is expediency. Never mind the next election, the latest opinion poll matters just as much.
In these coronavirus times, hope has been expressed that the enforced pause on our “normal” lives will see us taking the time to reflect on how we’ve been living. We’ll identify the more malignant practices and amend them accordingly.
Alas, if anything, the pandemic has only reinforced the on-demand way of life and, it can be argued, increased societal polarization, as well as inequality. What’s more, it has underscored the short-term “gain”, long-term loss tendency.
In the rush to do all that could be done to help those most at risk, very little if any thought appeared to have been given to the unintended consequences. Only now, months later, are we seeing some of our leaders finally listening to the dissenting voices who have been at pains to highlight the problems we’re creating.
Again, this isn’t that shocking when seen through the myopic lens that society as a whole tends to use.
To use football parlance, we’ve sacrificed a few playmakers to hold on to a questionable lead. The strategy has backfired, we’ve been pegged back and we need to go on the offensive. However, our star attackers are now out of the game. Most can, thankfully, be reintroduced. The question is, what sort of shape are they in?
When they re-enter the fray, they might be more like madmen than geniuses, more harmful than helpful. The margins, you see, are very tight indeed.
The temptation to choose, innocently perhaps, perceived kindness today, often results in a cruel tomorrow.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.