Many years ago, I was told that there was a subtle way in which you could assess the way a company you hope to work for treats its employees. It involves no interrogation of policies or of staff. You simply visit the toilet (or bathroom as the Americans refer to it). If it is clean and well maintained, it is highly likely that the company will treat its staff with respect.
The company does not see its staff use the toilets, and will rarely ever be thanked for the way they are kept. This is therefore a kind of anonymous benefit.
Many companies prefer to invest in other employee benefits that are far from anonymous, such as pay rises. Many companies are happy to do the right thing when it is readily visible, but less so, in the case of toilets where it is very much an out of sight, fringe matter.
By analogy, I see the quality of life in a country as one that is best revealed in the way that its people treat strangers. Humans generally put most of their social investment in family first, and friends second. Strangers, by default, get the least attention. We might smile at a passer-by, but would be unlikely to ask them to share a coffee. But I worry that in this country, the treatment of strangers is degrading. Wait in your car at the T-junction to a busy road, and you may have to wait a long time before someone will stop to let you out. They are mostly blinkered on their own journey, and you, as a stranger, mean far too little.
But this problem has moved up to an intermediate group of people – teachers in school are not family or friends of the pupils, but they certainly are not strangers. Yet many children treat them with complete disdain. The decline in respect is immense in just the 36 years since I was in school. We were too fearful of teachers then, but certainly looked up to them with respect.
If a ‘hoodie’ attacks an innocent bystander, few will step in these days because of this lack of fear or respect in the young. They often treat strangers with total contempt.
To get a feel of how things have changed, just watch some monochrome British documentaries from the 50s and 60′s. The people then will seem to be alien when compared to people today.
A lot of the defensive attitude towards strangers and life itself is, I believe a consequence of the relentless squeeze of the companies across the world. They ‘own’ the assets and jobs of the world, and apportion ever smaller shares of such to the masses who do the work, allowing them to live in increasing luxury. We are being pushed into a me-first attitude to life, and this is a very unhealthy one, as it damages social cohesion. The attitude to people beyond family and friends is the first to degrade, but a society with decreasing social unity and bonding will have much deeper damaging effects.
The Western world is long overdue an uprising over this corporate grip on the masses.