I don’t want to be a bystander anymore

June 7, 2020

A few months ago, I was looking forward to June and the pleasure of two or three pleasant evenings at the cricket after a busy day of work. Pints of ale with friends and my all too predictable conversation about how Test Matches are so much better than the T20 format of my favourite sport.

It is the perfect inconsequential relaxation. A privileged man with a pint and an opinion, in a benign and trivial environment; a sort of safe play area to leave me while the world gets on with its chores.

FYI, I have a few predictable conversations. I have never understood why people put on Lycra and run for fun. Honestly, just leave a little earlier, wear looser clothing and smile more. I would also ban salad. Food that is mostly cold, limp and wet has absolutely nothing to endear it to me. It is the food of last resort in any fridge of substance, and I believe restaurants only use it to inhibit our carbohydrate guilt.

Part of me wishes for a world where it was still ok to be so exercised by such small things, a world that used to make space for my vacuous banality and my privilege. The problem is that a world making space for my privilege also made space for too many others to live with unimaginable prejudice and pain.

It has brought me up short.

In recent weeks I have written a lot about kindness and love and caring. I have spoken about the power of seemingly small kind acts, because in a world where we seem not to have power over our lives, we always have the power to be kind. We do not need a budget, or a job title or permission to care.

There is however another feeling; a feeling which questions what use is kindness if a dear relative has died alone in a care home, or if you are a black man with a policeman’s knee on your neck?

So, let me put a little edge on how empowered we are, even now. In fact, how empowered we are especially now. I know I am privileged, but knowledge not ignorance is the privilege I want to claim for my life’s chances.

I will not therefore outsource my integrity and let the inadequacy of leaders be a proxy for my subsequent excuses. I am not a bystander in what happens around me, I am a participant.

The issues our world faces are easy to see, but I know I have found it easy to walk by muttering it is not my job and it is definitely above my pay grade. However, I want to frame things differently. It is not my job to recruit, train and lead police officers in the United States. However, I can educate myself on historical injustices and know how this seeps into the structural inequality of today. It is not my job to invent the Covid-19 vaccine. However, I can contribute to slowing down the risk of infection in the short term, while scientists seek to protect me in the long term. It is not my job to make the tax system fairer, or to design policies that help us meet our climate change imperatives. However, I can have an opinion and I can share what I think with colleagues, friends and family.

It is not hopeless, but hope alone is not a strategy. Leaders may have the privilege of power, but you and I have the power of influence. In this moment when things are frankly awful, I must not assume someone else, somewhere else, must be doing something. I must decide that I can do something, however small it might seem, and I must act.

I therefore make these promises. First, I will not outsource my integrity to others. I will ask more of those who have been gifted the privilege of influence over my life. I will say “not in my name” when my silence might be taken as permission by those who should know better.  Second, I will offer kindness because I know it touches people and stays with them forever. I can also amplify the cause of others and offer them love and care for their needs.

When the lockdown began, I said that if anyone needed to talk, then my mentoring work would be free of charge. So far, I have shared more than 150 hours with extraordinary people from New Zealand to New York, from all backgrounds and all parts of the legal profession. I am so grateful for the structure and purpose this has given this period of my uncertainty. It has been a gift to me. Now, if law firms or in-house teams would like to work with me to offer mentoring support for colleagues starting out on their careers and who come from traditionally excluded backgrounds, I will gladly offer my time for free for as long as it is helpful. It isn’t much, but I don’t want to be a bystander anymore.

Please take care. Paul x

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