"While watching the television over the past couple of weeks I have seen numerous programmes dealing with the issues of mounting debt, long-term unemployment among the young, old folk dying from cold in winter months due to lack of warmth, large families living in sub-standard private-rental properties, middle-class families getting evicted after the loss of the breadwinner's job, businesses going bankrupt and working-class households needing to regularly visit food banks in order to eat at all. All in all, I have seen and listened to the lives of too many people trying to live life on the dole day by day and it has sickened me.
While watching the above programmes, I admit there have been too many occasions when I have instinctively allowed certain value judgements of mine to creep into my mind. As I've watched, I noticed sixty-inch plasma television sets in the corner of the sitting room with the house occupants watching Sky and liberally drinking alcohol out of one of their hands that never seems to hold anything other than a can of beer all day long whilst placing yet another stubbed cigarette into an already overfilled ashtray with the other hand. As they go about their daily lives in constant struggle, often the woman will be pregnant with another child while they complain about their children having to eat beans and toast again for the fifth evening this week.
At this juncture of automatic moral judgement, I needed to remind myself of my twenty five years in the Probation Service working with the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug user, the heavily indebted, the feckless parent and the unemployed person who hadn't held a paid job for many years. I found that most were adults, who as a child never had any Christmas presents of their own and who saw it as their parental duty to make sure that their children didn't have to suffer similar experiences so they overcompensated. I rarely came across a man or woman with a drink or drug addiction who was not using their addiction to blank out their mind from the cruel experiences of their past. I never met a homeless person who didn't miss the absence of a roof over their head as much as they missed their family; nor did I ever come across a long-term dole-dependent benefit-claimant who had either the work-skill base that was necessary to get a job or the personal wherewithall and family structural support to keep one!
All that aside, there are far too many people in our society today, whom despite all their genuine efforts to support themselves find themselves at the bottom of a pile which shows no light at all at the end of their tunnel. For them I feel truly sorry and would willingly pay more tax on my pension to see their positions and prospects improved.
While watching such programmes, which I did find somewhat depressing yet necessary to view in order to remind myself about the sad plight of others who are less fortunate than I, it didn't escape me that I watched from a comfortable, warm and secure environment that is mortgage-free, having heartedly eaten my fill earlier that evening. Indeed, I know that while watching one such programme recently, that I was preparing to send out almost one hundred Christmas cards by second-class delivery the next day (54 pence postage stamp each). With the total cost of cards and postage, I know that this Christmas custom of mine exceeded the amount of money that one person from the television screens might have to live on for the coming week and I have to admit that such knowledge did not sit easily with my conscience and I felt morally obliged to ensure that I give an equivalent amount to charitable causes over Christmas.
The most telling comparison with their lives and mine however, resulted in me making a remark to my brother that essentially summarised my view as I saw it. We had recently been discussing the wide divisions within our society; economic chasms so wide that they are often close enough to touch across the street or even in one's neighbouring property. This conversation followed a discussion about my recent six-month chemotherapy course for a terminal illness I have and my brother naturally asked how I was faring. My reply was I fear, a sad indictment of our supposedly compassionate society.
I thought about many of the sad situations I had recently seen on my television screen and replied, ' I'm doing okay, Patrick. Indeed, compared to many of the poor folk we've just been talking about, I would have to say that because the quality of life has always mattered more than the longevity of it, I prefer to be dying in my world than having to live daily in theirs.'"William Forde: December 19th, 2014.