The world, as it appears in the newspapers and on television, is an ugly and frightening place. A story of murders and violence, carried out by a cast of sex-obsessed, money-chasing subhumans. You would conclude from television that most people would degrade themselves in limitless ways for celebrity and money; that you should not walk in the streets under any circumstances; and, from The Dinner Party Inspectors, most distressingly of all, that it's OK to write "Thank you for inviting Meredith and I to your dinner party".
Every so often, though, despite all our best endeavours, an ordinary person, with the same values and morals that most people have, surfaces in a newspaper. It doesn't happen often: and when it does, they look as exotic as would the sudden appearance of a narwhal in the Serpentine.
Miss Callie Rogers is 16 years old, and lives in Cumbria. Until the weekend, she has not led an easy life. She had to give up school for financial reasons, and take a job working in the Co-op. She had a difficult time with her family, and lives with foster parents, one of whom is disabled. She has never travelled further than Blackpool, where she once spent a weekend.
A few days ago, she won £1.875m on the National Lottery. Pleased and happy, she talked to the newspapers, and in everything she said, an innate goodness and generosity shone out. The first thing she wanted to do was to buy her foster mother a better wheelchair; get presents for her brother and sister; take her small cousin to Disneyland; and pay for her grandmother to visit her sister in Australia. For herself, she thinks she might buy a car, and she would like to spend a year or two travelling. And then she will go back, study some more, and maybe become a social worker.
There is no doubting the unaffected kindness and thoughtfulness in these wishes. The obvious decency of Miss Rogers is instantly shown by the fact that on Saturday night, when she found out she had won, she was dog-sitting for a friend. Is she extraordinary? I don't think so: I think she is probably like most people. The authentic tone - the thing that one knows most people would feel, instantly but irrationally - was struck when she said, simply: "I'm glad there were more people than me that won, because I don't know what I'd have done if I'd been the only one."
It's easy to forget the fact, but in reality, most people are decent, honourable and kind. Most marriages don't end in divorce. Most people, in reality, love their immediate families unconditionally. Most people would like to be a little bit richer, but would not trample over friends or acquaintances in pursuit of lucre.
And most people are naturally kind and thoughtful, even if there is nothing to be gained by it. I dropped my wallet once on Clapham High Street, with £150 inside it; a complete stranger found it, made inquiries to find out where I lived and went out of his way to return it within an hour, refusing my offer of a reward. When, on another occasion, I fell off my bike and broke my elbow; no fewer than eight passers-by stopped to look after me, and they were simply the nearest eight people. No one thought to walk past.
And we may believe that crime and violence is rising, but it is still unusual; our society is still essentially decent, law-abiding and safe. I've lived in south London for years and have never been threatened with violence, and know hardly anyone who has; the worst behaviour I've had to deal with directly was a noisy and selfish neighbour, and even that was unusual.
The truth is that most people are honest, modest and considerate, without being offered incentives or threatened with punishment. They find time for a friend in trouble; they will do a favour without thinking of any kind of return. This truth is not often conveyed by the media, but when it is, there is not much arguing with it. It's striking that, watching the current series of Big Brother, the people who remain in the house are kind, ordinary people, unwilling to offend and generally benevolent towards others. It may not be very exciting, but there is no doubt that almost everybody in the country is like kindly Steph, washing the floors, or shy Gos, or Cameron, interested in everybody and everything. They don't want to stitch people up, or humiliate each other; they want to get on with their lives, and their behaviour won't stoop much lower than a little cosy backbiting.
The papers are full of politicians, criminals, celebrities, but these are at the extreme edge of human behaviour, and we shouldn't forget that most people are not like that. Most people live lives, not of quiet desperation, but of quiet usefulness and decent happiness. There is nothing particularly interesting in that, but it is true. Miss Rogers isn't a saint; she is just like anyone you choose to stop in the street. I hope she has a happy, useful life; there is every reason to suppose that she will. Most people do, you know.Reuse content