20 November 2012

Accidents happen

About ten years ago in Canberra, my baby brother was riding his motorcycle to work in the afternoon, when a car failed to give way properly and cleaned him up.  It was a horrible accident leaving him with significant injuries and a stint in intensive care followed by a heap of rehab.  It just so happened that in a car travelling a little way behind my brother, was a man who knew my Dad and our family.  He stopped to help at the accident, recognised my brother when his helmet was removed and immediately called my Dad.  My Dad took the call from a meeting in Melbourne, heard the news and called Mum at home, who leapt in the car and drove up to the accident.  She almost beat the ambulance.

The marvel at the time was the speed with which the information was shared thanks to mobile phones, and while horrible for Mum to see her baby boy in that condition, she was able to travel with him to the hospital and be with him while they pinned him, stitched him, patched him and all those things that a bandaid and kiss from Mum just weren't going to fix on this occasion.

The news spread as his siblings were told, then friends, and so on. People rallied behind him and behind the family offering support in a myriad of different ways.  All of them overwhelmingly positive and valued. Community at its very best.

A while after the accident the driver of the car rang to apologise. He spoke to Mum and she asked of him, as she had asked the universe a million times, how could you not see him? He wasn't speeding, it was broad daylight and it's a big bike?  The man replied 'I did see him, I thought I could beat him'.  What my mother heard was 'I drove into your beloved baby boy deliberately'.  She raged.  I get that.  I got it then and I get it even more now that I have my own children.  I still maintain that the driver did the right thing by apologising, by owning his actions, even if he got the apology so horribly wrong.

The reason I write about this is a story I read online yesterday about an accident uncanny in its similarity to my brother's accident.  Except, due to social media, photos were shared of the accident within minutes, some of the family found out via facebook as the parents hadn't had a chance to call everybody as they were at the hospital with their son.  Some 'friend' noted the registration of the car that hit the bike and tracked the guy down and a harrassment and hate campaign started towards the driver, calling for him to be run over, his family hurt and so forth.  And all within a couple of hours of the accident.

This is so very very wrong. This is not an example of community at its best and its not helpful for the family.  Whatever the split second decision, or momentary distraction was that meant the driver hit the bike, it was an accident.  A horrible, horrible accident but one I am sure he would take back if he could.  Accidents come about generally because of a series of small incidents that culminate in an event.  Accidents have impact, accidents generally have a root cause but they are still accidents.

Accidents take time to assimilate.  The driver needs to work out what he did.  The rider needs to heal.  The family needs to grieve, to rage, to worry.  The police need to work out what happened and files charges accordingly. As a society, we need to stop validating this mob mentality where we judge and sentence people without knowing the full story.  We need to give people the opportunity to apologise.  We need to give the law a chance to work.  Of course it takes time and when you are hurting, your friends or family are hurting, it is natural to want justice to move more quickly - but without the constraint of due process, we are no better than we should be.

A girlfriend of mine once said "good people can make bad decisions and do bad things, it doesn't change who they fundamentally are". As she had been at the receiving end of the bad decisions of somebody else, the words resonated with me and have stayed with me.  Because they are true.

Most of us are good people.  Most of us have made decisions that haven't worked out so well.  Most of us are lucky that they haven't resulted in injury to others.  And it would do us all good to remember that.  The driver in the second accident is, on the law of averages, probably a good person who made a dreadful mistake.  Let him own his actions, work up to an apology.  The apology wont change anything, but the mistake is his.  Starting hate and harassment campaigns, revving up a mob mentality - that's just a different example of how good people make bad decisions.

Our online communities should be the same positive and supportive force in our lives as the old fashioned communities.  Their reach should enable that support to be more widespread, more diverse, but should always, always, be used as a means for good.

That is all.