Saturday, July 18, 2009

To Engage or is Discretion the Better Part of Valour?

Bleery eyed one early morning at Vauxhall tube/train/bus interchange this week,
I walked by two young men conversing loudly on the open concourse one of whom was yelling expletives at the top of his voice. I glanced briefly at them whereupon
the loud mouthed fellow directed his invective towards me shouting that he was the same as me an had much the same right as I to be there. Interestingly his
insults were then put expletive-less, in a rather childish fashion, for example yelling "baldy" and commenting that he at least had all his hair. He seemed very keen to engage in conversation but I hurried on.

I wondered later on reflection whether there might have been some racial aspect - they were black and I am white but the attempt at insult was age related so it was more likely to have been a generational thing.

His moan that he is the same as me, is of course in some sense true - we are both equally human - but in another sense it is not - I prefer not to use expletives at all and not to inflict them and conversations I am having with friends, on total strangers. Would engaging with him have been the better part of valour?

Later that day I happened to speak with a curate of the parish back in Wimbledon. He said that his brother had been likewise bemused a couple of years back whilst in a Brixton park with his two small children. The swings which his chldren wanted to play on, were being (mis)used by hugely over age youths. The brother felt that if he tried to reason with the youths there would be a risk of violence so walked away - discretion therefore for him being the better part of valour.

However I recalled having a similar experience to the curates brother's, years previously when out with our then tiny children in Wimbledon Park. I did engage the youths on the swings and suggested that they could be better occupied by doing something more in line with their age and let my toddlers use the toddlers' swings. When they asked me to name a few examples, I replied ' go to a pop concert or something'. Their reaction was to exclaim that that would involve more money than they had. A good cross generational debate then ensued and the maytrees' infants eventually got to enjoy their swings.

Reverting to the curate's conversation; his wise observation then was to the effect that if the protagonists in these situations have a drug addiction, reasoned debate with them may be impossible.

Given that reasoning is very much part of being homo sapiens, drug taking alas, must be de-humanising.

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