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You could have been anything

We work to live, not live to work. Our job roles are the career paths we develop as our main source of income, but they don’t define us. Many can and do specialise in a field, which is understandable as the better you are at your job the more informed and productive you can be, but we are always many things outside of work. Everyone usually wears many hats; we are jacks of all trades, which includes dabbling in various roles without doing them professionally. We are all at one time or another handymen, drivers, cooks, nannies, reviewers, comedians, critics, salespeople, counsellors, sportsmen, and so on. The job you do is the path you chose to make a living, but most people could just as easily have made different choices and ended up in another role. Many people use their transferable skills across several different sectors during the course of their career; in short what you do isn’t the only thing you could have done, although it is always rewarding to be good at something.

Unfortunately, for instance in remote, developing, sparsely populated, underprivileged and historical communities, the roles we usually rely on for other people to do as a matter of course aren’t available, and a person might be forced to take on more tasks than he ordinarily would, due to the lack of available skills or people with the right skill sets to fulfil the role. Less developed societies don’t have supermarkets, electric heating, washing machines, trains and tube stations, kettles, the internet, and so on. People would have to farm their own food or trade directly with each other, they’d have to heat up the kettle over the fire, wash their own clothes, visit a library if they wanted access to information, and so on. Things get easier at varying stages of a society’s development; particularly due to developments in infrastructure and technology, until in this day and age most regular citizens in affluent countries have access to services and amenities enabling us to cut the time spent on everyday tasks to free up time available to pursue our goals.

The notion of reverting to more primal lifestyle is often televised in the West for entertainment, such as survival skills reality television shows where people demonstrate how to survive in the wild. A genuine such regression as a permanent situation in an affluent society would raise eyebrows, however. In the genuine absence of such services and amenities people would end up trying to do everything themselves again, even things you’d never normally expect them to. For instance, it would raise eyebrows if doctors weren’t available in a community and the inhabitants had to operate on themselves, as it’s something we take for granted. It would raise eyebrows even further if doctors were available, but only to certain members of the community, while remaining unavailable to everyone else, which is the very definition of discrimination. The lack of prejudice and discrimination is lauded as one of the hallmarks of civilised societies, but it is no mean feat to achieve, involving constant vigilance, communication and reinforcement, as we might all have the right idea but people are fallible and you can’t be everywhere at once. In other words, experience is the best teacher, if it’s ever happened anywhere then it’s always possible, and maintenance of the ideal boils down to our personal vigilance, outlook and attitude (as breaking news stories are often quick to remind us).

Nature abhors a vacuum, and where there isn’t anyone or anything to turn to for anything essential to our survival people must do it themselves or perish. Human rights advocate, rape counsellor, counter-terrorist officer, detective, psychiatrist, criminal psychologist, prison officer, lawyer, fraud investigator, hate crime investigator, firearms officer, teacher, journalist, news presenter, etc. None of us usually need play any of these roles unless they are our chosen specialism, as a civilised society usually has professionals available whenever required, to keep us all healthy, safe and free to pursue our goals. However we all could wear any of these hats, and indeed in the absence of them would likely all wear all of these hats all at once (probably not as well as a trained professional, but you would have to), and it is a testament to our civilisation and freedom from discrimination that we never need to.

I would like to think that if there was a breakdown in our society and we found ourselves inexplicably bereft of the support that would usually keep us safe from harm, we all would have the resourcefulness to protect each other as if we were professionally trained to do so, despite that it isn’t something we’re used to doing or something we ever thought we would have to do. Most of us could have been anything after all; surely it would simply be an extension of cooking for yourself in the absence of having your own personal chef (let’s not complicate the issue with takeaways). The point is, if something terrible is happening and it comes to your attention and for some reason there is no one yet available to help, and for some reason you can’t get anyone whose job it is to help, you should have the courage and bravery to be able to tell yourself, ‘I could have been anyone, and I could do this too until help arrives’ and do your best to do whatever comes naturally, and whatever you think you might have done had you been trained to, until those whose role it is to keep us safe arrive on the scene.

I once saw a YouTube video where a man fell off the edge of a train platform at a busy tube station, and into the path of an oncoming train, which was fast approaching from within the tunnel when he fell. The woman nearest him saw him fall, gasped in horror, turned her back, took a few steps away from the platform edge and covered her face with her hands, unable to cope with the unpleasantness of the situation. Others nearby turned to see what she was reacting to, quickly deduced what had happened and rushed forward to help the man. With the sound of the approaching train getting louder they banded together, one of them jumped onto the tracks and forcibly shoved the man to the platform edge, where everyone else pulled him and the fallen man out in a sea of arms a few moments before the train hurtled past. They then stood around breathless and relieved, patting each other on the back and asking each other if they were all okay. This all took place in less than a minute, and it was over almost before it began. Seeing everyone celebrating the successful rescue, the woman who had scurried away and covered her eyes attempted to join in the discussion and ask how everyone was. Unfortunately for her it may only have been a split second but they had all seen, and no one would look her in the eye.

Don’t be like that woman. If you could have been anything, be who you could have been, if you have to.

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