An egotistical take on the Grenfell fire

I don’t often watch TV news, but I did see the Panorama programme on Monday, which provided an overview of last Wednesday’s disaster, its surrounding circumstances and causes.

Of course this is early days to judge, but I imagine that everybody who watched the programme, and nearly everybody who’s been following events, will have experienced the following emotions pretty strongly:

  • horror
  • pity
  • sympathy for the homeless and bereaved
  • awed admiration for the ordinary people and organisations who provided immediate help
  • shock that such a thing could happen in Britain in 2017
  • anger and disgust at the authorities who apparently showed such complacency about safety; such disregard for complaints and warnings; and such unwillingness to provide basic support and assistance to those who had suffered so horrifically, and for whose situation they were responsible.

The anger in London and elsewhere is very strong. There is a wise article by Deborah Orr in the Guardian for 17th June saying that unbridled anger is not necessarily helpful or constructive, and I agree with her, but that’s not what I want to say here.

I felt all the emotions listed above, but I also felt another one, familiar to me. This is pity for the perpetrators.

I don’t usually sympathise greatly with terrorists and other murderers. But when death or disaster has been caused through someone’s carelessness, recklessness or error, I tend to feel sorry for them, imagining their feelings of guilt, and the abuse they’re likely to receive on conventional and social media. Social workers who fail to notice the lies of child-abusers, for example. People who knock down and kill children while distracted by their mobile, or even while speeding or drunk. Even bankers whose over-large bonuses are exposed in the press.

I’m a member of a political party that does rather thrive on anger, and sometimes I struggle, a la Tim Farron, to reconcile this with the Christian duty to love enemies.

So it would be nice to think that the part of me that pities the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, and is uneasy about the scenes of furious people shouting in the Council foyer, is motivated by Christian love and proves that I am a wonderful person.

But no, this time I really don’t think so. (The wonderful people are the ones organising donations of supplies on the streets.)

I feel sorry for the managers because at bottom, as a former lawyer, as a very law-abiding citizen, as a middle-class person who’s always lived comfortably and respectably, I identify with them. I identify, not exactly with perpetrators, but with government and authority rather than with victims.

I can more easily visualise myself making a catastrophic mistake that ruins someone’s life, than I can imagine being the person whose life is ruined.

Similarly, I tend to identify with the rich man in the parable in Luke chapter 16, rather than with Lazarus, which is of course why I find the parable frightening.

This is not admirable. This is not like Jesus. This time for once all (or very nearly all) my sympathy should have been with the true victims.

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Malachi Malagowther

    24th June 2017 at 11:54 pm Reply

    In the Watergate scandal it was more the President’s actions in trying to cover up his mistakes after the break-ins had been authorised rather than the initial attempts to destroy evidence that caused outrage and brought about his downfall. Something similar seems to be happening with Grenfell tower. We were all appalled at the speed and the ferocity with which the fire spread and its horrific outcome. However there may have been a sense in which many of us felt that it was understandable that the less expensive cladding had been placed on the building. The building and fire regulations were unclear and there didn’t seem to be definite forbidding of that particular type of cladding. The Council would have been under pressure to operate competitive tendering and possibly obliged to take the cheapest quote. Tower blocks were generally thought to be relatively safe and the cladding wouldn’t be expected to cause the spread of fire by itself.

    However what seems to have caused people’s anger is the apparent indifference of the Council Chief Executive and many others on the North Kensington Council to the people who had survived the fire but lost all their belongings as well as friends or relatives, had nowhere to live and were in a state of shock. The response of neighbours and others in the Community was to rush down with food and clothes and setting up temporary accommodation. By contrast the Council apparently was unmoved and apparently just groaned at the unfairness of suddenly having hundreds of extra homeless people on its waiting-list for Council flats. Things are finally starting to happen in response to the fire and there seems a chance that fire safety regulations will be improved and properly implemented for tower blocks. It is a terrible price to pay but disasters of this sort seem to be required before people will start changing their behaviour.

  • Judith Leader

    26th June 2017 at 11:50 am Reply

    I was given a book called A book of uncommon prayers – one starts ‘Father do not forgive them for they no exactly what they are doing.
    Several people reported the danger of a fire, one of the fire chiefs said (in the Guardian so it must be right), that changes are only made when there is a disaster and it was only because people were so angry that the council back tracked about housing people out of the area.
    In Grapes of Wrath it states that it is only when people get angry that something happens. Think about the private coal mines and no unions (How Green Was My Valley) and you realise or get the feeling that no one cares.
    I do get your point about making a mistake, as a nurse a mistake on my part also could kill someone. This wasn’t a mistake, they ignored safety and people who flagged up safety concerns so yes I am angry and worse still am not surprised.

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