Last week, The Times reported that it’s likely Peaches Geldof died of a heroin overdose, having been fixated over her mum’s death in similar circumstances. I generally do all I can to avoid the kinds of people who moralise about the lives of strangers on social media but, like semi-naked pictures of Toby Young, they somehow manage to find their way into my feeds, in supersonically inverse proportionality to how much I want them there. By the next day, it was evident people had been Having Opinions. The lovely Rae Earl tweeted: “Re Peaches: Deeply suspicious of the ‘I wouldn’t do that’ brigade. Grief and pain can drive us to strange and terrible places.”
I’m always deeply suspicious of the ‘I wouldn’t do that’ brigade. I said it after Amy Winehouse died and I’m saying it again. You can bet that whenever anyone makes a statement like it in relation to a tragedy, or someone else’s behaviour, they’re not just telling you something in passing, or genuinely wanting to reflect on the issues – they want to demonstrate their moral superiority over others:
- “I’d never take drugs.”
- “I’d never move back in with my parents”
- “I’d never sleep with a married man/cheat on someone.” (delete as applicable according to relationship status)
- “I’d never think about killing myself.”
The baffling ferocity with which some people state they’d “never do” something suggests a charmed life. There’s nothing wrong with a charmed life of course, but there starts to be when you berate others for not having the same. If you say you’d never contemplate suicide, can you actually even begin to imagine what it’s like to be in acute mental distress? If you’d spend much of your late teens and early twenties at stages of breakdown while everyone else was getting laid, can you imagine that afterwards you might be grateful for anyone functional giving you the eye once or twice, even if it was someone who shouldn’t? And trust me, if the alternatives were homelessness and a food bank, or taking a job in desperation and being dismissed for not being able to do it when that’d already happened to you once before, you’d probably move back in with your mum.
FYI, I’ve done all bar one of the things in that bullet-list at least once and I’m no lesser person than you. I know people who’ve done them; they’re not either. The one I haven’t done is take drugs. For two main reasons: One, they’re a ferociously bad idea if you’ve any propensity to any kind of mind-wobble. Two, I met enough people at young enough an age whose lives had been wrecked by them to enforce reason one. Actually, living back with my parents probably saved me from all manner of dark excesses in late-2011. If I hadn’t been (and inherited a modest sum from my granddad at the same time) I could well have ended up skint and low enough to take drugs. Obviously I’m extremely glad I didn’t, but I don’t in any way believe that not taking them makes me superior to others. Others, who in all likelihood, lacked my privileges, or have been through things that I haven’t, like losing their mother at the age of eleven.
Of course, it’s possible to anticipate tough scenarios sometimes. If you get depressed or anxious, once you’re a certain age, you can pre-empt patterns and do what you can to help yourself. If you’re a twentysomething woman starting out in the media you can know in advance that you’ll probably struggle for money, be offered drugs, or inappropriately propositioned, and think through how you’ll deal with it. But you may not. Even if you do, knowing it in the abstract is very different to experiencing it. Some moral dilemmas seem to bite from nowhere. And sure, ongoing stupidity says things about you, but most stupidity isn’t ongoing. Most “stupid” things people do aren’t planned; they’re of the moment. Even if they seem inevitable when you look back, they never are at the time, especially if you tend not to trust your instincts. Even if you’ve thought about doing them before, the decision to act is always instant. It happens because at that particular moment, a combination of your past and current circumstances bubbles up and boils over. As an outsider, you don’t know what those life circumstances are. I’m a pretty open-hearted sort, even my best friends don’t know some of the most specific context behind my situations. If the person concerned is someone you don’t even know, you haven’t a hope of knowing what drives them.
A while ago I went to a presentation on Making Reasonable Adjustments for Dyslexia and Dyspraxia in the Criminal Justice System My first thought, being dyspraxic, was “Well I don’t any of this for reference, do I, I’m not planning to break the law.” Then I realised I was being an I’d never-do-thatter. Bar career criminals, plenty of people who break the law don’t actually plan to. As in, don’t wake up in the morning and think: “Hey, you know what. Today I’ll do something illegal.” Then I started thinking about all the circumstances – reasons beyond “being an obvious psychopath” one could end up in the criminal justice system (hello, self-defence against domestic abuse!), and how I wouldn’t have a hope at looking good in court because I’d panic, my body language would be hyper-negative and my sequencing and memory would be all over the place. Then I thought “Yikes, maybe I’d better listen to this.”
Really, it’s rarely necessary to point out that you “wouldn’t” do something. Yes, there are probably some things you definitely wouldn’t do. Like deliberately set out to harm or kill someone, say. Or do anything prolonged that would hurt a friend, or someone close to you. You wouldn’t do them because only an actual sociopath would and I don’t think you need to tell the world you aren’t that. Similarly, I can say with reasonably certainty I wouldn’t do anything which involved a long-term deceit because I find the idea of lying habitually – even for ‘good’ reasons – very difficult. But anyone who knows me shouldn’t need to be told that. And even if you think I’m a dreadful person because of anything I’ve admitted here, I can assure you my brain has tried to tell me that a hundred times a day for years and doesn’t need any help at all from you.
And if you’re going to worry about anyone’s likelihood of doing anything destructive, worry most about those who insist they “aren’t the type.” Save it, sunshine. You’re never the type, until you are…