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Anouchka Grose: Before you condemn, ask: What would I have done?


The very sad death of Yue Yue, the toddler knocked down in a hit-and-run accident in Foshan last week, has given the world yet another reason to ask itself whether wealth and progress necessarily make life better for human beings.

The creation of wealth seems to rely on dense clusters of people, which in turn attract more people who need to be where the money is. The outcome is a huge number of packed-in people who don't know each other, often competing for a slice of the pie. As people have been saying for quite some time now, this doesn't make for good neighbourly relations.

Foshan is a city transformed by China's economic boom. There are some people doing very, very well there, while others gather up the crumbs. In the aftermath of last week's accident, the Chinese press has been full of voices asking how it was possible that 18 people could walk past a bleeding two-year-old without appearing to bat an eyelid. Has the drive for economic expansion replaced any interest in non-pecuniary relationships?

For the rest of the world, some of which did its expanding some time back and is now sitting rather disappointedly in the middle of the mess, it's obvious that it's not only China that has a problem. Anyone living in a big city will surely know what it's like to walk past a body in a filthy sleeping bag and to wonder whether the person is alive or dead. Or to witness an incident on a moving train and hide behind your newspaper, too scared to get involved. It's not such a leap to imagine being caught on CCTV walking past an injured child.

Many of the 18 people in the video footage have reported being harassed in the wake of the accident. Some say they didn't see Yue Yue. Others claimed to be afraid it was a scam. But a far more common response to the story has been an anxious self-questioning: "Would I have done any better?"

It seems that a hateful, punitive response can only be given in bad faith. Perhaps you walked past a tragedy today and didn't see it – and simply had the good fortune not to be filmed. At least if we know we might have been one of those people, we can think about how we might do things differently in future.

Anouchka Grose is a psychoanalyst and author