It’s hard to know what to say when you get bad news. In the local paper:
Omg it's very sad news thinking of her family and friends at this sad time :( r.i.p ur a angel now xxxx
Better say nothing.
When your train does not come on time, there’s a platform announcement which always ends: ‘We apologise for any inconvenience caused.’ I like the any, as if a kind of traveller exists who is not inconvenienced by delay. You can be lucky sometimes, down the line, if the flight you miss goes on to crash. But this idea won’t cheer you up when you’re staring at empty rails, where the station rats are going about their business, undisturbed. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t even be rude to the officials. That’s verbal abuse. That’s against the law. Better say nothing.
Enter a sense of helplessness. I overheard two old ladies in the launderette. They were pining for the old days, when people were healthier, less greedy and more honest. I assume they put themselves in the ‘old days’ basket.
It’s not easy to change someone’s behaviour, or the way they are. In a recent BBC report, we saw that tactics which have worked with smokers could be used on the obese. People are smoking less due to advertising campaigns designed to frighten them. I suppose you could upset a fat person with some graphic images, but many of us eat for comfort. While non-smokers are winning, thin people aren’t.
Social pressure has also worked on smokers.
‘Somewhere along the line, people said, “Would you please go outside and smoke,” or, “I've got an allergy to smoking.”’
To light a cigarette, smokers in the UK have to leave public buildings, but you can’t expect fat men and women to do the same just because they are fat. You will also have trouble getting the potbellied out of your home. If you say you’re going to sneeze, they won’t blame themselves. Even if you do manage to cast out the corpulent, what then? After a ten-minute break, smokers will finish their cigarette, but fat people will still be fat.
It’s a wispy line, too, between shock tactics and revenge. A teacher once locked a rebellious child in the toilet. It was after school on Friday. Detention was over. Normal detention, I mean. There was no one else around. The school was closing for a two-week holiday. Sir didn’t push the boy inside the toilet. He just quietly turned the key while the little chap was going about his business. The caretaker found him late that evening.
At one school, the assistant explained to me why the children behaved so badly: “They have no god.” Divine revenge is best. A UKIP councillor has blamed destructive floods in Britain on the government’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel.” No man, however powerful, the councillor went on, "can mess with Almighty God with impunity," adding: “and get away with it.”
Better say nothing. However, if God is Wolf, don’t build a house of sticks or straw. Like the councillor, an Indonesian cleric blamed a devastating tsunami on the godlessness of the people. Losers. We saw the proof on TV. In the entire town, his mosque was the only building left standing.
It was also the only building made of bricks.