GLASS HOUSES By Ian Greenland
On a recent trip back to see my dad, a typically tense and emotionally draining day was given respite by the mostly adorable antics of my nearly-3 year old boy. Keeping him up as long as I could before the wheels came off, I read him his nighttime stories and put him down in a makeshift bed. Secretly thanking him for making the visit bearable, I resisted the urge to just crash out myself and sloped back downstairs to find my old man pouring us each a Jack Daniels. We quickly fell into a familiar dynamic borne of nearly two decades of similarly tense and emotionally draining visits. Him moaning about everything under the sun (or lack of it – don't get him started on the fucking weather....), me glassy-eyed, barely needing to nod ascent let alone chime in, knowing fundamentally he'd never change but wondering couldn't he at least buy some better Whisky??
Don't get me wrong, there's definitely shit in the world that needs moaning about (welcome to my monthly column) but I don't think I've ever gone so far as to describe the RSPB as “a bunch of wankers”. They join an extremely long list of wankers in his book.... he's actually got a book too. It's called People, Organizations, Private and Public Companies, Places, Energy Suppliers, Technologies, Animals, Atmospheric Conditions and Everyone and Everything Else I Think Are Wankers.... Let's just say I don't think he sings in the shower and we've never really seen eye to eye.
A few years back, he sat opposite me and told me the doctor had said he was on the cusp of diabetes and should no longer indulge in his daily bowl of ice-cream. Hand on heart he said despondently "It's my only pleasure left in life"..... to his SON?!? He has another son too; an extremely successful, generous, thoughtful legend of a man... Not covered in hundreds and thousands though is he! Me and my brother are definitely more glass-is-half-full guys, where dad's is eternally half-empty, although since there's only JD to drink in his house, he might actually be winning there.
Anyway, at the risk of using my entire word count to catharti-cuss my father, I'll get to the point. Right after he called people who donate bone marrow to sick orphans wankers he moved onto tailgaters and I nearly spat my drink out. If ever there was a serial tailgater it was him. Long before The Fast and the Furious made aggressive driving cool, my Mondeo-clad dad fancied himself The Quick and Curmudgeonly. Teenagers will always find a way to be embarrassed by their parents but fuck me did he make it easy as he terrorized the rear bumpers of startled pensioners, school-run mums and everyday commuters alike. I still remember a bloke getting out his van and thumping the driver-side window, while my dad mimed the whole “oooooh, I'm scared” sarcastic shivers. “Not getting out the car though are you dad?” I thought.
Now here he was in another tirade, inadvertently calling himself a wanker and I honestly don't think he recognised the hypocrisy. He might as well have been wearing an RSPB tabard.
Hypocrisy is something I've become keenly aware of recently specifically because I have a nearly-3 year old. When you spend large portions of the day reminding them to say please and thank you, not to stuff food into their mouths like they've just crawled out of a dessert, not to lob their toys or bite or scream in people's faces, you better be damn sure you're practising what you preach cos they are some observant, calculating little fuckers and they're just itching to copy your bad behaviour.
The whole wonderful process of parenting makes you reflect on those behaviours we often justify in ourselves but prefer not to see in others. And it's not just my dad doing it. A scientific study conducted a decade ago presented a large group of people with two tasks, one “tedious and time-consuming”, the other “easy and brief”. Candidates could choose to assign each task to either themselves or the next person, or allow a computer to randomly assign for them.
Eighty-five percent of people chose to take the reigns, gave themselves the easy task and deemed it “fair”, yet almost exactly the same percentage thought it unjust when watching others do the same... Dickheads. Interestingly though, the researches threw a curveball, repeating the experiment whilst requiring the subjects simultaneously memorize a long series of numbers. By effectively hampering cognition, and placing candidates in a distracted, more instinctive state, researches provoked far more impartial results, whereby participants judged their transgressions in line with others. The implication is we are intuitively moral beings, but given time and incentive, we'll generally perform the necessary mental gymnastics to let ourselves off the hook for poor form, provided we don't stray too far from our predetermined moral code. When we do, rather than risk destroying our own perception of ourselves, we tend to create a little ethical wiggle room, totting up all our good behaviour against the bad or convincing ourselves it was minor or justifiable.... When we know we've really fucked up, we blame alcohol. Or, in the case of Newt Gingrich (not a Harry Potter character, but an extremely powerful US politician), who was cheating on his wife while impeaching Bill Clinton on charges of infidelity, we blame patriotism. Citing his serial adultery as a result of all the hard work he was doing for love of country, Gingrich's later campaign-trail assertions that he had since matured (he was 55 at the time of that particular affair so hardly youthful abandon) and found God's forgiveness (Don't drag Him into it!) worried those watching his presidential bid. If hard work for his country had led him to manipulate, lie and shag people other than his wife, was the top job really a good idea?
John Lennon, a bloke who liked to lay about in bed banging on about peace and love had a long history of dishing out domestic and emotional abuse. Ultimately he became a victim of violence himself in a country where large swathes of evangelical “Christians” regularly undermine Jesus' less bed-bound message of love and compassion by waving around guns and placards saying things like “Faggots Burn in Hell”. Of course that's America though, so everything including the hypocrisy needs to be armed to the teeth and dialled up to 11. The biggest hypocrite stateside (or at least the one with the most followers) isn't chucking stones in a glass house so much as throwing tantrums in a White one, but his moral failings might be one of the few indicators he's actual human (his hair certainly isn't)
The truth is we're all guilty from time to time of a little ethical duplicity, but that's just social survival in a demanding world, so it's important we keep perspective and direct our indignation where it's really deserved. In a time of such political and social division, it's imperative we seek mutual understanding through accountability of our own failings before we seek to persecute others for theirs. Before reacting, we should try to genuinely assess whether moral transgressions are relatable, understandable and forgiveable. We've probably all advocated honesty and integrity then smiled upon realising we've been undercharged on a round so does that make Bono a cunt for spending decades preaching about the plight of poor people while simultaneously avoiding paying MILLIONS in taxes which could have gone towards the provisions of education, welfare and health services??...
For that, and a hundred other reasons, yes, yes it does.
Ian Greenland is a writer and photographer whose dad likes U2. www.greenlandphotography.com