I have been troubled by bad dreams since I heard of the death of Jo Cox, I did not know here , I did not know of her, her life and mine were never likely to have crossed paths. It is not for Jo Cox or her family or her friends that I am troubled but for something else.
I sense this disquiet in many others, perhaps a sense of guilt. I felt it particularly when her sister’s speech finished “she was perfect”. I am quite sure that Jo Cox was not perfect but to her sister and to many of us, Jo now represents an abstract idea of someone who we can aspire to as having found her social purpose.
Most of us, Jo Cox’s sister included, do not live our lives quite as publicly as Jo Cox did. She met her end at the hands of someone who was detached from society as Jo was involved. They represented two extremes of social engagement.
For most of us, finding the balance between the dark introspection of the loner and the social self-confidence of Jo Smith is part of our sense of self and self-worth. Some of us define ourselves in terms of possessions, others in terms of our popularity and a few people define themselves in terms of their obligations to others.
Obligations to others
I come from a family where public service is very important. My father was for many years a councillor and for a time a prospective parliamentary councillor, he was leader of his county’s council. My mother to this day , is a taxi-driver for her peer group who are becoming less socially mobile, she has been a public servant in a private way throughout her adult life.
I have the good fortune to have had these strong and public-spirited people as role models and I fear I haven’t always lived up to the example they have set me. Part of my trouble with Jo Cox is self-chastisement, could I not have done more of what that woman was doing.
A fit society
I mean”fit” both in the sense of “being fit” to live in and being competitive, a society proud in its purpose. Britain isn’t a society that boasts its superiority but we are self-confidant, I would not live elsewhere for I fit here and feel this country is fit to compete in a global economy.
But the death of Jo Cox, calls that into question. For the man who killed her claimed to speak for Britain and had lived his life alone. He believed himself idealistic but his terms of reference were far removed from our society’s. And yet he lived among us and was a part of a community.
There will be many saying openly or privately that man “had a point”. He did have a point, but that point has no place in a fit society – as far as I’m concerned.
I feel on weak ground here, I am very priviledged in terms of education and have become part of Britain’s mass affluent. But I know that society in this country has changed and that the views of that man were stuck firmly in a worldview that is passed. The Britain that we have today is a mixed society where my sense of Britishness is refreshed by my daily interactions with a diverse range of people.
Indeed I talk with people on social media without care of whether they live in Britain, Sweden, America or India, only 40% of my Linked In connections are British.
A cosmopolitan and diverse world
Jo Cox’s world knew no boundaries. Her most famous campaigning was over the plight of the Syrian refugees. Her work was famous enough for the President of the United States to recognise her and give comfort to her husband.
Hers was and ours remains a complex cosmopolitan world that includes the influences of many other nations and societies.
Finding our place in that world is quite easy, we simply need to reach out. How much harder if you live in a country that does not have our advantages (like Syria). We have both personally and as a society, an obligation to help others and that does not mean putting ourselves first.
Making sense of guilt
Try as I might, I cannot but feel some responsibility for Jo Cox’s death. I wake with fears that if not the cause, I was negligent in preventing it. I feel guilty when I hear and see racism and realise that – by being a part of the conversation, I am condoning it.
Yesterday, I was with a group of cricketers aged 15-18. One mentioned an act of racism in the school and I was pleased to hear others telling him to stop the conversation. There was to be no discussion of racism and it was quite clear that it had no place – even in their banter.
For these young men, their world is defined by rules of their making. My son was one of them, I was proud that he was enforcing these rules by the way he behaved.
Guilt is either a negative emotion that makes cowards of us, or it is a positive emotion that spurs us to better things. I am strongly of a mind that managing the guilt I feel for being a part of a society that killed Jo Cox can be turned to good.
I wrote that Jo Cox should not have died for nothing and I have asked that we all vote- if eligible – to define our place in or out of the EU.
But to move forward and to purge this guilt I feel, I know I must fulfil my sense of purpose, work harder to get the things done, that I talk of in this blog.
Talking is not enough.