What have rioting young people to teach us about alienation?

Normally on Wednesdays I aim to write about ego characteristics, the self that we think we are. Yet as I write my country has seen a major outbreak of rioting in city centres, perhaps of the kind last witnessed in France in 2005. What has all this possibly got to do with ego?

It is especially hard to write about people who have taken part when I know so little about them and what drives their behaviour. Already there’s masses to read about on this in any case. See for example this article on the psychology of riots . What has struck me however has been the large number of TV programmes in recent years on various aspects of life in our inner city or “post-industrial” estates where family breakdown, joblessness, low educational achievement, drugs, crime, racism and other factors have interacted within an overall culture which is very separate to the mainstream of our society, a part of our population, albeit a minority, whom we choose to ignore, excluded it seems from the benefits of affluence the rest of us have indulged in, albeit massively “on credit”. However, policy makers have largely continued to ignore the problem, except for recent strictures to “get people off benefits and into work”. So, with such a background, and particularly with the recent public spending cuts, it is perhaps not surprising that such people – perhaps bred in a violent gang culture, usually controlling the streets at night, with nothing to do, where nightly incidents occur that involve violence, often including the police, which we don’t hear about – should take advantage of an opportunity of slow police reaction to seize hold of what is not normally available to them.

To comment on all this from a standpoint of ego awareness could seem extremely disconnected from what life might be like for such people. Yet the word “separate” particularly comes to mind for me, amongst many others, separate from others in society, separate from opportunity, separate from a stable, secure, structured upbringing, and separate perhaps from the love that connects us to others and from whom we learn about living responsibly in a civilised society. Such a world as our ghetto estates seem rife with a profound, despairing exclusion and a breeding ground for anger and resentment.

In one form or another, life seems to construct itself so that we experience what being separate is like, in one form of another. Being separate might be to feel excluded, or to be apart from ones we wish to be with, unloved even. It might be to feel isolated and very alone. It is of course the polar opposite of unity, of being at-one, of being totally connected to oneself, to others, to life and All that Is. So, to read about life on these estates is, for me at least, to be reminded of such a powerful, profound disconnection from the Whole.

Yet I have watched with great admiration TV programmes like “ Secret Millionaire ”, where wealthy people who’ve made their fortunes go and live undercover in these estates and identify both the problems there but also charities who are working selflessly and with little funding to help such people. These individuals then start to support these charities. It is a moving programme to watch, not least for the utter commitment of many individuals in the face of such despair. What oozes out of this programme is often what was missing in the lives of the millionaires themselves, the love they missed out on, the love shown by these selfless volunteers and the very genuine desire of the to-be philanthropists to put something back.

Maybe we all need to be doing this. Who could you reach out to today and give some support to?

Behind the image of the hoodie, much though we may deplore the violence, is an aching soul, heavily concealed though it might be. This is when, despite all appearances to the contrary, we need to “see God in each other”.

Of course, we don’t do this, we don’t have compassion for such people. We get into judgement instead. Of course we can’t tolerate such violence, but we also need to look at what is really going on, ourselves included. We too may feel very “separate” from such people. But, at some level, they too are God.