Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paranoia And Suspicion

Apparently there is a thing called normal human paranoia. It is the feeling experienced by most of us that we are being watched by those around us, that other people can see the hideous flaws that we possess, and are constantly passing judgment upon us. Some people feel it acutely, and some people just have a vague discomfort about being seen in public while looking less than their best. In reality, the people around us are almost always so preoccupied with their own background paranoia, their own fears, worries and concerns, that they don’t even notice ours, let alone care.

At the same time, it would seem that there is also another feeling which may be related. It is a sort of background level of suspicion which exists in many people, so that whenever somebody else experiences some good fortune there must be something sinister about it. Either they don’t deserve it, or they must have cheated, or they must have a secret plan to somehow benefit at the expense of the rest of us. And so it is that some people seem to be reacting with suspicion to the good news that Jamie Neale has survived his twelve days lost in the wilderness, and seems to be in remarkably good condition.

For whatever reason, some people have suggested that he has faked his own misadventure for the purpose of profiting from what will undoubtedly be lucrative offers from the media. It is a deeply cynical and suspicious accusation to make, one which is uncaring and even inhumane. What could possibly cause people to harbor such thoughts, when the only thoughts should be of relief that for once there has been a happy outcome instead of a tragedy. It is almost as if some people are resentful of the good fortune of others, even though it comes at no cost to themselves. It is mean spirited and demeaning.

Of course, there is the old joke that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you. It is possible that from time to time somebody might try to delude the public by staging a disappearance or a kidnapping, or some other adverse event, in an effort to either create publicity, evoke sympathy, or simply cash in. It has happened. Does anybody remember Fairley Arrow, the singer who staged her own kidnapping to seek publicity? But the truth is that such attempts are rare, and are usually so poorly thought out that the perpetrators are found out very quickly. In this case, New South Wales police have expressed no doubt about the fact that Jamie really was lost in the wilderness for twelve days.

Some are also asking about the cost of the search and rescue operation, wondering if perhaps the individual who has been rescued should now be presented with a bill. What a remarkably short sighted and narrow minded point of view. As human beings we all must recognize our duty to each other to render assistance to those in need. It is the fundamental principle that ensures that we all survive, and usually we have no trouble acting accordingly. When thousands of people suffer the effects of bushfire or flood, nothing holds back our generosity, even if people have been foolish enough to contribute to their own misfortune by ignoring official advice on preventive measures.

But for some reason when an individual encounters difficulties, and has perhaps made mistakes which have contributed to the problem, many people have no mercy. It’s his own fault, and he should pay. He has been irresponsible and put the lives of his rescuers at risk. He has caused a lot of trouble, and deserves to be punished. People who make such assertions completely overlook the possibility that they too may one day be in need of assistance when circumstances overtake them. As much as we believe in individual responsibility, we all rely on each other for survival in one way or another.

Of course the question of receiving payment from media outlets to tell the story adds a further dimension to the issue, and in this case experts are suggesting the sum of money involved could be as much as a million dollars. At this point it is hypothetical, as offers have yet to be made or accepted. Even if they are, Jamie’s father has indicated his belief that any money should be signed over to the rescue authorities in return for what they have done. He sounds like an admirable man of great character, but even if he didn’t have that opinion, would it be anybody else’s business anyway?

Another young man was around the same age when he sailed single handedly around the world some years ago. His name is Jesse Martin, and he experienced great danger and survived to tell the tale. He has made money and established both a public profile and a career as a result. Of course he was not lost, and no search party had to be sent out to rescue him, but what if things had turned out differently? What would people be saying about him then? He took risks and they paid off, and we all admire him for it. Jamie on the other hand did not intend to spend twelve days in the wilderness, but when confronted with that reality he has survived, and his family has the joy of being reunited with him. Why should we admire him any less than we do others who have survived against the odds? And for that matter why should we be concerned if he is also rewarded for that?

Human beings are funny animals, so often concerned with what others might think of us, but so quick to make judgments ourselves.

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