In this week’s ‘Big Issue’ magazine, the actor David Tennant is interviewed about his new TV drama ‘Des‘ about the serial killer Dennis Nilsen who killed at least 12 young men in London between 1978 and 1983. Many of his victims were homeless and this has led to David Tennant musing about the conditions of society at the time. He says that it is important to understand Nilsen ‘because it’s important to understand the darkest corners of what a human being can be’.
Some of the issues in the background of Nilsen’s actions were poverty and homelessness and joblessness. People fell through the cracks in society and David Tennant puts forward his opinion that the society in which Nilsen carried out his murderous deeds was an uncaring one.
The political background at the time was the view expressed by the then Prime Minister that there was no such thing as society. It was the age of ‘individualism’ which did so much damage to what our life together means. As Tennant puts it: ‘as long as there is no such thing as society, then we don’t have a collective responsibility for each other’. That’s why Nilsen could get away with what he did for such a long time. In Tennant’s view, Nilsen was able to select his victims because he was preying on people that society had ‘to a greater or lesser extent, turned its back on’. Here lies a warning and, whilst what Nilsen did was a while ago, there are echoes of that time in our own society today. Tennant does not believe that the lessons from the past have been learned.
The social and economic theories at the time emphasised a philosophy which concentrated on self and less on others – what could be expressed as ‘Me, Myself and I’. We paid a big price for the emphasis on individuality. It flew in the face of Christianity which is based on community, holy fellowship and kindness to those in need. Measured against the Gospel it will always be found wanting.
David Tennant sees warning signs as we approach what he believes to be a ‘recession, the likes of which we have never known’ which will ‘expose the flaws in our society.’
That Society must find ways of helping people. He says that ‘we’ve got to be very aware that there are dangers and that there are people who are going to be more vulnerable than they should be in the coming months. We all have to take part in being aware of that. And as a society we have to find ways of providing resources for helping people.’
One of the ways we can tackle this is through kindness to each other. Tennant says: ‘We’ve all got to proceed with maximum kindness in the months to come.’
He adds: ‘This lockdown has been a great leveller. Suddenly everyone’s been in the same boat because you can’t escape a virus by being well off. It brings us all together. And hopefully that allows us all to have a better understanding of the equality of the individual, which in turn allows us just to think with a bit more kindness and understanding than we’ve been famous for as a society up to now.’
Kindness to others is rooted in giving everyone respect and worth – and this brings forth care, concern and love. It must be expressed from the heart and be concerned with equality and mutual acceptance. For the Christian it is also about becoming more Christ-like.
Mother Jane of the Sisters of the Love of God once wrote:
“Jesus teaches us to look at each individual person as unique and to consider the particular circumstances of every case in which a decision has to be made. This is not easy, but each of us can try in the limited sphere of our own little lives not to be pressurized into mass thinking. Instead, we need to remember the friendly greetings, the words of encouragement and sympathy, the small acts of kindness which people exchange a thousand times a day, and most of all in times of trouble, and which are a true measure of the spirit of humankind.”
Devotees of ‘The Archers’ may remember that some time ago now the fictional Vicar of Ambridge preached a sermon at the beginning of Lent in which he suggested that people should give up gossiping for Lent – much needed in Ambridge and doubtless elsewhere! Instead they should take up random acts of kindness.
Our society and our world need these more than ever.
St Paul instructs Christians in Colossians 3: 12:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
The instruction is very clear.
The Big Issue Magazine is published weekly at a cost of £3.
Of this £1.50 goes to the vendor who are seeking to practice the Big Issue Foundation’s mantra: ‘A Hand up, not a Hand out’.
Vendors are often homeless but all are seeking to earn a legitimate income and gain valuable social and employability skills. Buying the magazine helps to give people self-respect, hope and the ‘hand up’ they need. It’s even better when you can engage them in conversation and show that you care for them as fellow human beings with the same rights that you have.
Vendors are back selling on the street across the country. They are back at the heart of their communities, back earning a living. But life is not back to normal and some vendors with health needs cannot yet return to work. They are being supported by the Big Issue Foundation. Your support is a vital way of helping them.
If you are not able to buy from a vendor then the magazine is available from W H Smith; McColl, the Co-Op and Sainsbury’s. It is also available on subscription £38.99 for 3 months (go to bigissue.com for more details.)
It can also be downloaded from App Store and Google Play