How about a ribbon of solidarity against our preachy politicians?
YOU may not remember what you were doing on November 13 — but the chances are you weren’t celebrating World Kindness Day. This is a global initiative to spread compassion and make the world a better place and, while clearly a Disneyesque abomination, is said to be observed in 50 countries.
It failed to catch on with Scots. Sadly, the charity Kindness Scotland, despite its best efforts, became inactive because of a lack of funding from charitable trusts and companies.
The nebulous nature of a special day set aside for being nice was, it seems, a huge turn-off (and besides, Christmas has rather stolen a march on the idea).
And it’s no wonder people are now so sceptical of yet another ‘day’ to commemorate or celebrate or ‘raise awareness’. Indeed, for many of us, scepticism has turned into downright resentment.
The chances are you didn’t mark Brain Awareness Week, World Glaucoma Week or World Kidney Day either. Many of these come complete with their own ribbons or badges so that the wearer can telegraph to the world their devotion to the cause.
Predictably, our virtue-signalling parliamentarians have been all too keen to pin them to their lapels.
It is not enough any more to just support a cause, quietly donating or volunteering. There has to be a physical manifestation of your deep-seated belief in the need to keep kidneys healthy, to be aware of one’s brain — or simply to be ‘kind’.
Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in common with many other politicians, wore a red ribbon to show solidarity with Aids sufferers on World Aids Day.
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has worn a white ribbon, apparently signifying opposition to violence against women.
Nationalist MPs wore white roses, referencing Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem The Little White Rose, at the Queen’s Speech last year, in a kind of silent protest against all the hated pomp of Westminster.
The ribbons and badges are a way of making a public statement and underlining one’s credentials as someone who supposedly wears their heart on their sleeve.
They are far less likely to wear their genuine beliefs on their sleeves, of course — think of those Nationalist MSPs who quietly voted Leave but kept very quiet about it for careerist reasons.
Miss Sturgeon taped a YouTube clip for St Andrew’s Day and this was posted on Twitter with the caption: ‘We’re encouraging people to embrace the kind, caring nature of our patron saint by helping each other out.
‘Why not spend 30 minutes on November 30 doing something to help someone in your community?’
Former bosses of Kindness Scotland, who one imagines might have lost some of their compassion following the bruising rejection of their mission, may well have grounds to feel the Scottish Government has hijacked their campaign.
This edict to honour St Andrew by being more caring — while laudable in itself — is heavily contrived, as few of us think of our patron saint in these terms, and if we are honest few of us do anything whatsoever to mark the day.
Nationalists have been keen to turn it into an occasion to celebrate Scottish identity (though St Andrew faces stiff competition on this front from Robert Burns).
It is now a holiday for much of the public sector, though ignored by almost everyone else, allowing civil servants to get on with their Christmas shopping rather than inconvenient distractions such as, well, running the machinery of government.
Ken McLaughlin, a lecturer in social work at Manchester Metropolitan University, has written a scathing critique of the phenomenon of awareness-raising; the urge to pin on a ribbon or badge on the flimsiest of pretexts.
He said: ‘Far from helping us to grapple with society’s problems, such campaigns only work to increase our anxiety, bombarding the public with a bewildering and never-ending slew of messages that tell us we are at risk from myriad threats. However, such pernicious effects stem from a more profound political problem.
‘Awareness-raising campaigns are frequently presented as a form of political action; by raising people’s awareness, campaigners say, they are empowering them to take control over their lives.
‘However, the focus of these campaigns is more often focused on our own lifestyles and relationships, rather than on any broader political project.’
Dr McLaughlin goes on to argue that the ‘current obsession with “raising awareness” actually represents the negation of political action and its replacement by a form of top-down, therapeutic moralising’.
The Left in the 1960s and 1970s was also interested in raising awareness of a host of problems and saw its role as spreading a particular message.
But supporters understood that actively spreading such messages is about a great deal more than just wearing a ribbon.
In a book on Ribbon Culture, author Sarah Moore found that many wristband and ribbon wearers have little specific knowledge of the charity, illness or issue symbolised by the ribbon they are wearing.
For some, the choice of which ribbon to wear was made on the basis of which one best matched the clothes they were wearing that day.
The poppy is a symbol of a different order and, though contentious, is the only one permitted to be worn by BBC presenters.
Presenter Graham Norton and his production company So Television were reprimanded by the BBC in 2013 after he wore a World Aids Day ribbon, such as the one sported by Miss Sturgeon, on air.
Editorial guidelines state: ‘The BBC must remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas, no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial.’ Admittedly, even supporters of the poppy may have raised an eyebrow this year when the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street appeared on BBC programme The One Show wearing one.
This has been called ‘poppy fascism’ — the bullying expectation of universal poppy-wearing — but if such a fascism exists, it is not confined to poppies.
Some ire was directed towards those politicians who failed to wear a white ribbon on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Last year Clare O’Neill — a ‘rapper, nurse, feminist’ — asked on one blog: ‘Why isn’t every MP wearing a white ribbon today’, an omission which she claimed was ‘indicative of a deeper collective apathy towards this issue’.
She added: ‘Today was about inviting governments to raise awareness of [violence against women], so why didn’t our government?
‘The white ribbon symbolises a pledge to never remain silent. We should be asking ourselves why we are.’
In the case of far too many of our political representatives, these symbols and ribbons are nothing more than a substitute for charisma, leadership or innovative ideas about addressing the day-to-day problems of their constituents — which may not lend themselves to slogans or trendy ribbons.
It is, however, the sheer ubiquity of awareness-raising ribbons that undermines the messages — often entirely valid — that their wearers are attempting to send out.
As a society, we have reached a tipping point where there are so many demands on our compassion and social conscience that they begin to meld into one meaningless mass.
But we also rightly reject the idea that politicians occupy a moral high ground from which they can preach at us about how we should think and act.
For that reason, a ribbon for utter disenchantment with the political class would be a sure-fire hit.