A tragic death and the need for reflection

By Jill Segger
November 8, 2017

Ask almost anyone – yourself included – are you an independent thinker or do you follow the herd? The answer will almost certainly be in the affirmative to the first question and in the negative to the second. No one is eager to identify as a sheep.

But group think is insidious. This phenomenon, identified by the psychologist Irving Janis in the 1970s, may sidle into the moral judgement of the most liberal and 'right- on' consciences. We all identify with some groupings – be they religious, cultural, or political, to name only a few. Because we tend to keep company with others of similar backgrounds and outlook and with those whom we may be joined in a common cause, we run the risk of becoming isolated from the consideration of alternative views and experiences. If we become so convinced of the rightness of our views that we cease to consider ambiguity, nuance or consequence; we may exclude evidence which could call into question the collective opinion. Self-censorship in the form of a pusillanimous silence may be the result. Few of us want to be victims of a social media 'pile-in' or lose the esteem of our peers.

Like most of my 'tribe', I have been by turns horrified and angry at the accounts of sexual bullying currently populating the news. And in common with almost every woman, I have revisited some unpleasant and disturbing experiences of my own, both within and outside workplaces. It is entirely right that we should scrutinise these matters and refuse to allow this manifestation of the abuse of power to persist.

'And yet, and yet...' as our beloved Quaker poet UA Fanthorpe wrote. Some of the language used in this confrontation has been euphemistic, obfuscatory, weaselly and downright unhelpful. 'Unacceptable'; 'high jinks'; 'just a bit of fun'; 'banter'; 'flirting'; 'witch hunt' – no doubt you can add to the list. However irritating this might be, it serves to remind me that where there is outrage, there is also a call to reflection. The tragic death of former Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant now challenges us all to a morally intelligent pause.

The Press Association has reported today that “Mr Sargeant's family say he had not been informed of the detail of allegations before his death, adding that distress of being unable to defend himself properly meant he was not afforded 'common courtesy, decency or natural justice'”.

Unexamined privilege is given to shouting in protest when it is called into question. When its long-standing dominance suddenly begins to look shaky, it hits out. When people who have long suffered under the injustice of that privilege see the tide beginning to turn, they may – understandably – not always be temperate or discerning. When those whose unenviable task it is to adjudicate feel themselves under pressure from heightened and divided opinion, they may all too easily take a false step.

We need to step outside our group comfort zones and recognise this as a time in which we all – governors and governed alike – would do well to reflect anew on governing ourselves with care and with integrity.

* Samaritans: call free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

* Rape Crisis: services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999
* Survivors UK: support for men and boys - 0203 598 3898.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.