Sunday, 27 April 2014

Why boredom is no excuse for anti-social behaviour

Photo "borrowed" from Wadebridge police. Please don't arrest me.

A week or two ago, Wadebridge Police shared the above photo on their Facebook page, along with the message that the driver responsible for these tyre tracks had been issued with a "Section 59" warning - ie. a reprimand for anti-social driving.  This covers careless or inconsiderate driving, as well as driving in any kind of manner that may cause distress or alarm to nearby residents.

I'm going to state here and now that I fully support the police in this.  I've been scared witless when driving alone, thanks to idiots who think overtaking on a blind bend is a "cool" thing to do, or who tailgate you when you're travelling at 30mph in a 30mph zone, because they somehow think the speed limit doesn't apply to them.  The comedian Jon Richardson once said that being in a car can make you feel brave, because you're encased in metal and that basically means you're Robocop.  But too many people take that "bravery" to a ridiculous level and forget that a car is a machine capable of great speed and that when they crash, they can cause severe injury and even death.  Or perhaps they don't forget those things and they just enjoy taking risks.  Who knows.  All I know is that people who drive in a deliberately aggressive, careless manner are, in my opinion, total arseholes.

My opinion aside, inevitably people began to comment on the photo once it had been shared on Facebook.  Some praised the police for their actions, others suggested that they should find "better" things to do.  Of course, few things would seem more important to those people, had the driver of the car hit a child, but hey...

Then one comment started to surface over and over.  The same argument, being used as an excuse.  "I bet whoever did this was a kid.  And I bet he was just bored.  There's nothing for kids to do around here, so you can't blame them for kicking off."

Wadebridge: Nothing to do.  Except go to the cinema, or travel to the beach, or play football in the park, or...

Here's the thing: that's bullshit.

Boredom is a horrible thing, I agree.  And I agree that sometimes, being in a small town and feeling as though you have nothing to do can make you angry or fed up and more likely to want to act out.  But it's not an excuse for doing so.  Taking it as such is ludicrous.  Would you allow a murderer to stand in court and say "sorry I killed that pensioner your honour, but I was bored"?  Of course not.

The Manic Street Preachers are famously from a small town in South Wales where, by their own admission, there was nothing to do.  So they read books, watched films and, in their own words, "stayed in and dealt with the boredom."  Eventually, they decided to learn instruments and form a band.  The rest is history.

The fact is, whilst feeling bored out of your brain is lousy, it can pave the way for things.  When I was bored as a teenager (before I could drive and get out for the day), I'd write stories.  Some people choose to paint or draw.  Others might take up sport; going for a run is a known way of getting the adrenaline pumping and ceasing that feeling of dullness that we all get from time to time.  We can read a book or a magazine.  We can go for a walk or arrange to meet our friends.  We can mess about in the kitchen, cooking something from scratch.  We can find something  - anything - to pass the time, without resorting to dangerous driving or other forms of anti-social behaviour.  

To suggest that people are almost forced into criminal activity through boredom is to entirely ignore their potential for creativity and imagination.  To use boredom as an excuse for anti-social behaviour does nothing but take responsibility away from a person and that's ridiculous; we must all take ownership of our actions and face the consequences that they may bring.

My opinions on this haven't always made me popular.  Saying that boredom is a lousy excuse for anti social behaviour causes some people to suggest that I've not checked my privilege.  My answer to that is that you don't have to be privileged to see know that petty vandalism isn't nice and will more than likely end you up in trouble.  You don't have to be well educated to realise that deliberately driving at high-speed, zig-zagging across the road in a built up area with a speed limit of 30mph is dangerous and illegal.  You don't have to be rich to know that going for a walk with your mates might be better than staying indoors and cyberbulling someone online.  Boredom sucks and the frustration that a lack of money or ideas creates can make you want to rail against the injustice of it all (believe me, I know from experience of being a totally broke, deeply hormonal teen, living at one point on an RAF base with just one shop and literally nothing to do and nowhere to go because there were barely any buses out), but it doesn't excuse any of those things.  That's what I'm saying; not that boredom isn't lousy and frustrating, but that it shouldn't be used as an excuse for crime or anti-social behaviour.  We all feel bored from time to time.  How we choose to deal with that boredom is up to us.

For what it's worth, I think more money should be put into services for young people.  A decent youth club, an Am Dram group, a cafe/meeting place aimed at younger members of society...  All those things would be welcomed and would make a difference to the lives of young residents of small towns across the UK.  We need to listen to younger people and ask what they want and how they'd like to be spending their free time.  We need to encourage them to use their creativity and skills and we need to show them that they are all valued members of society; too often young people are discriminated against because of a minority that do commit anti-social acts.  We should never tar an entire group of people with one brush.  People come from all walks of life and they should be listened to and appreciated equally.

Shows like Educating Yorkshire prove just how important it is to remind the younger members of society that they can achieve whatever they want to and they can be whatever they choose.  Let's give them those positive messages, rather than lumping them all in with negative press.  These could be the teachers, doctors, actors, musicians, mothers and fathers of the future, after all.  Let's not insult them by suggesting that they can't help but commit crime because they're bored.

When a person commits a crime - petty or otherwise - there could be a dozen reasons for it and we should listen to those reasons, because doing so may help prevent further crimes in the future.  But having nothing to do doesn't make it okay to rob an old lady, or steal a car.  It wouldn't stand up in a court of law, would it?  Boredom isn't an excuse for anti-social behaviour and frankly, I'm bored of it being used as one. 

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