This is our truth, tell us yours
Sometimes I use this blog to muse aloud. These thoughts are just a first draft.
It’s almost impossible to read the accounts of the Hillsborough inquest and not to ask yourself how so many police officers stayed silent for so long.
Now perform a little experiment.
Replace the words ‘Hillsborough inquest’ with two others; say Rotherham inquiry, or Operation Yewtree, or Whitby inquiry, or any number of others, and the assertion remains the same.
How did so many police stay silent?
How did so many social workers, and doctors, and nurses, and lawyers, stay silent for so long?
Some of the explanation is systemic. Decent people in bad systems produce bad results, despite themselves. They know it, too, but tell themselves the bad results are better than they otherwise would be, and carry on regardless.
It’s arguable that people who think they are decent people in bad systems are hugely morally compromised, despite their good intentions. That doesn’t explain though the institutional failures, the huge systemic collapses of accountability like Hillsborough.
At heart I think there are interactions between systemic failures, like Hillsborough, and an acceptance by individuals within the system that they, too could have made the tragic errors. Hundreds of football matches were played in South Yorkshire in the 1980s, and many of them had similar instances where one mistake could have killed people. Just about everyone involved knew it was a bad system, and when it catastrophically broke, killing spectators, how easy would it have been to empathize with the individual who made the mistake, and to say ‘There but for the grace of god….’
It’s impossible not to notice the frequency with which systemic failures are covered up by the people within the system. Some of them are thoroughly corrupted, but what if the majority of those who engage in cover-ups are the ones who see themselves and their colleagues as decent people in a bad system?