As we know London and other cities in the UK have recently experienced a series of looting and riots which shocked a nation and gave the politicians the chance to proclaim a range of panaceas and measures which drifted quietly over the heads of a general public not entirely engaged with their antics and posturing.
Something else happened which I found rather more remarkable. Out of streets and houses which seldom attract the attentions of the newsroom people emerged in significant numbers armed with brooms, tools and cleaning materials and set about clearing up the mess made by their recent unwelcome visitors. This event was largely unsung, although it did make a brief entry in the news.
These are the people who have passed each other in the street saying nothing or as little as they can: protecting their life from the burden of living in an overcrowded metropolis.:now moved by a common impulse to lend a hand. In bland suburbs not noted for the exceptional something remarkable occurred. People who never spoke or exchanged glances with each other found common purpose. Conversations started out of nothing and in the swell of goodwill people who had lived near each other for twenty years started talking and sharing opinions on everything from the riots to the price of jam. Through the unrest and the disaster people found each other.
This new community was not worth the destruction which preceded it but it was remarkable in its own way. It showed behind the quiet shyness and minimal connection normally displayed people are waiting for a moment to express warmth and personality.
There will be no hall of fame. Their pictures will not be displayed in newspapers or on some police website but they have shown an aspect of humanity which is both warming and inspiring. The ability to reach out without self-interest and help a neighbour, even if that neighbour’s name is unknown. The riots appalled me and left me shaking my head, but these people inspired me and left me wondering at the enormous pool of generosity which lies untapped beneath our consciousness, waiting for a moment to make itself known,
Often men or women who have been in extraordinary circumstances such as war or a natural disaster meet sometime after the event. It is not the event which draws them back together: it is the sense of community to which it gave birth . It is a sadness of life that the best of a man often goes unsung . In events larger than ourselves we can lose the need for personal advantage and greet each other without artifice or guile. All we need to know about each other is shown by our response to the event. To move beyond the straight-jacket of public-manners and convention and greet each other in the spirit of empathy and goodwill. The best things in life are simple. Apart from anything else, it is common shyness which makes them complicated.