The Pearl: an allegory

The old man lived alone on the edge of the forest. His family had all grown and left home and his wife had died many years ago. He was used to being on his own; he liked being on his own. In his solitude he would often recall the strange wild-haired speaker of words who had visited the village when he was a youth. This speaker of words spoke of a pearl of great price that was waiting to be found, and when it was, he said, the one who sought it would know it for what it was and would abandon all else to possess it. And the old man, when he was a young man, thought he would like to own this great pearl. With it he would be rich beyond his dreams and all of his troubles would come to an end.

Hardly a day passed that he did not think about the pearl of great price. Hardly a week went by that he did not look for it, on his travels into the wide world beyond the village. He began to neglect his family and his other possessions in pursuit of the pearl but alas, after many years he still had not cast eyes upon it. There were, it was true, times when he thought he had caught a glimpse of it and even occasions when treasures of a different sort came into his possession, but these were not the great pearl. He could not rest until he had found it and so he spent years of his life looking for it.

But once he was old, he gave up the search. Moving around was not as easy as it once was and though he had not forgotten the promise of the great pearl, he no longer believed it could be found. He doubted even that it existed and he began to curse the one who had told of it, all those years ago. So the old man lived alone, tending his crops, and fetching water from the well. He spoke when spoken to by those in the village, whenever he had cause to go there, but otherwise, he lived his life in quiet, remorseful isolation.

Until there came a time when, as the cold chill of winter crept over the land once more, he ventured into the forest to collect firewood. There was little to be had in the parts he knew well so he went deeper in, beyond the familiar sights and into the heart of the forest’s darkness. He soon became lost and casting around for a way out, he spied a light in the gloom ahead. As he stumbled towards it, the light shone more brightly, until, finally he reached a clearing in which sat a young man. Arrayed in white, his raiment shining like the sun, the young man raised dark piercing eyes and though he did not know why, the old man’s thoughts turned unbidden to the pearl for which he had once so earnestly searched. As if reading his mind, the young man rose and spoke:

‘That which you seek is here,’ he said in a voice not of this world.

‘I have sought the pearl these many years, my Lord,’ said the old man, a tear falling from his eye. ‘It is not to be found.’

‘You are wrong,’ said the young man. He was tall and dark and possessed of a presence the old man had not encountered since his youth. The boy stretched out his arm and opened his hand to reveal a glowing silver orb that seemed as if it were floating freely in the air. ‘It is here,’ he said.

The old man wiped away tears that now fell freely and stepped forward, reaching for the pearl. ‘Remember, my friend,’ warned the young man, ‘that whoever lays hold of the pearl forsakes all else.’ The old man would not have wished it other. Through the brilliance that emanated from it, he laid hold of the pearl and was, in that instant, consumed by the light. Every thought, every care, every sorrow and every regret that he had ever had was burnt away and he was transformed. No longer himself he was yet more himself than he had ever been.

While the shadows of trees filled the clearing, the darkness enveloped all. Of the old man and the young man and the pearl of great price there was no sign.

Lessons from Life 9: It’s worth the risk

Take some chances.

Life can be spent cautiously and carefully, avoiding all possible risk. To an extent we’ve all had to live this way for the past year. While this has, arguably, kept us safe, it hasn’t felt very much like living life, not in any really fulfilling way.

I’ve lived most of my life this way; risk averse, conforming to expectation and cautious to a stultifying degree. It hasn’t been until later in life, that I’ve started taking more chances, and have realised all that my ordinary little life can be.

I’m not advocating being rash, or doing things that are justifiably illegal or that would harm yourself or others (I could never smoke for this reason.) I am talking about not living life according the maybes, what ifs and possibles that are currently dictating our lives. ‘Maybe there will be a resurgence of Covid-19, possibly there will be vaccine-resistant strains, perhaps health systems will be overrun, what if I catch a virus – any virus – and be incapacitated or die.’ And maybe not.

We cannot live on the basis of such vagaries. We don’t in any other context: we don’t avoid driving because maybe this time will be the time we are involved in fatal crash; we don’t confine ourselves to our homes because the ultra-violent light outside might trigger cancer; we don’t, as Billy Joel so eloquently put it, stay far away from the door if there’s a chance of it opening up. (His ‘An Innocent Man’ is a brilliant song about daring to live.)

Every day under normal circumstances, we take calculated risks, having put in place any necessary precautions – seat belts, careful driving, sun cream or whatever – and we go out there and do things. This is how it should be.

Don’t doubt it; something will get you in the end. As Mark Twain famously put it, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Only one of these is fatal (though the other runs a close second). Whatever we do, death cannot be avoided forever. Yet we behave as if it can. Take some chances; this is the only opportunity you’ll get to do so. Once you’re gone you can’t. I’ve not regretted a single risk I’ve taken.

They’ve made me alive.

Love & Time

I step up on to the bus for a journey I’ve taken so many times before. Usually it takes about twenty minutes to get into town, but I know that today it’ll take much longer. I’m going to see my father.

The birthday card came out of the blue. It arrived on my birthday, of course, so it wasn’t out of the blue in that sense, but it was the first I’d ever had off my dad. It was the first he’d ever sent. In it he’d written, ‘if you’d like to meet, please call me,’ with his number.

She must have the card by now. I timed it to arrive for her birthday and even if it didn’t get delivered on time it must be there now. I know I hardly deserve a response. but I’d so much like one. Need one. Even if it’s to tell me to get lost. I’d understand it if that’s how she felt.

I didn’t reply. Not at first anyway. Then I texted him and told him I would meet him. He texted back almost straight away with a picture of himself. I wouldn’t have recognised him. He left my mum and me just after I was born.

I didn’t send him a picture of me.

No photo, but at least she’s prepared to meet me. More than I hoped for really. Thank God for the Internet. I’d never have found her otherwise.

I sit on one of the seats facing into the bus. I don’t want to look out of the window. I read his instructions again: ‘meet @ the café in market square @ 12. please wait for me. I’ve a long way to drive. looking forward to seeing you after all this time, dad x x’

I haven’t told mum I’m meeting him.

Hold-ups on the A66. I left enough time and now I’m going to be late. She might not wait. Wouldn’t blame her. I’m hardly the most reliable person in her life. Pray to God she will. Text her to ask her to.

After an eternity, the bus lurches to a halt. I put up my brolly and walk through the rain to the café. I buy a decaffeinated coffee and sit at a table in the corner. I’m early but it isn’t long before he’s late. Another text: ‘held up in traffic please wait.’

Finally. I made it. Parking took ages too. I pull my coat round me and run to the cafe, nearly an hour late. Good job there, Tom, that’s the way to treat her. The place is half empty. I scan the faces, looking for someone who looks like me, or Katherine, but no-one holds my gaze. Which of them is she?

I know it’s him as soon as he walks into the café. He looks much older than I thought he would. He glances round, surveying faces, but has no way of recognising me. He sits down at the table in the window and looks out. I look away, just in case. I step back and watch him from across the street, secure in the shadows. I feel sorry for him.

She’s gone. Who can blame her. I blew it. Again.

The return bus comes into view and I step up to the bus stop. This was a big mistake and I want to be at home, with mum. Thirty-two years is a long time not to know someone. Not to know your own dad. The bus stops and when everyone is on board, pulls away again.

As the clock strikes, I cross the road and push open the door to the café.

 

Lesson From Life 8: Love and Time

The children, summer 1987

I always felt inadequate when raising my children. It was difficult to know what was the right thing to do in any given circumstance. Hard to know whether I was giving them the attention they deserved, showing enough interest in what they were doing, being fair in my discipline, patient enough, providing them what they needed (and often buying what other parents were buying their kids). All of that. There was no manual to refer to, no Google, back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, to search for advice. I felt as though I were making it all up as I went along and didn’t have much at all to offer them. This was compounded and confounded by my Christian faith at the time; I was not bringing them up in the way of the Lord. They resisted any attempts to get them to go to church, making Sunday mornings traumatic for everyone – the kids, my wife and me in a state that was as far removed from serenity and readiness to worship as it was possible to be by the time we arrived at church.

The occasional child expert who turned up TV or in a magazine, paid to give their unfounded opinions on child-rearing, would invariably say it was important for parents to spend Quality Time with their children. Another standard to fail to meet! Quality time. What was that? The experts were usually pretty vague about what it entailed. You just had to know what was quality and what was not and it seemed every other parent knew this this intuitively. I didn’t. Was it reading the bed time story without nodding off yourself? Enlisting the offspring in every activity group going? (How was this spending quality time with them yourself?) Playing with Sylvanian families with my adult mind switched off? Equipping them for life by passing on my limited skills? I never did discover the answer to these questions, though I did feel guilty, and a failure, when I couldn’t fully engage with the things that interested my kids.

Later, however I came to see that all of this talk of ‘quality time’ and bringing children up in the way of the Lord, together with the notion that there was a right way to bring up children that everyone else knew about, was, to put it mildly, a fiction. I recognised that all I had to give them was love and time. This didn’t seem like very much but in fact these were the very best things I could give my children. Not ‘quality’ time either, just ordinary time spent with them, without worrying about where this time might come on somebody else’s scale of worthiness. Just being with them, talking to them, encouraging them, enjoying the banality of any activity, because that is part of what love is: putting yourself out for others. It is also showing affection, being pleased to be with your children, telling them what they mean to you, building them up.

My kids are grown up now and tell me they had happy childhoods. They’re good people, with children of their own whom I’m privileged to love and spend time with.

Story for Lesson 7: The Vision

He stepped out of the light, as if made of light himself. Light giving form to light, a being of pure light. His garments shone, blazing brilliance. His countenance radiated light and he spoke not as with words from any mouth but as of precious stones – rubies and emeralds – for he had no mouth that I could see. As his radiance shone forth, his words entered the mind of any who would listen. I listened, transfixed by such a vision of loveliness and power, blinded by his iridescence. He raised his hands as he spoke, if hands they were; more discs of light, brighter than the sun.

‘I am your Lord,’ he said, his voice a mellifluent confluence of joy and authority. ‘I appear here before you to set you apart, to reveal to you my message for the world.’

‘Oh, Lord’, I said, lost in the beauty of his radiance. ‘Pray reveal what this message is. Tell me and I will forever do your will.’

‘Let me see,’ he said as he pulled a golden scroll from the folds of his shining raiment and began to read: ‘Preach salvation to all nations in my name.’

‘That’s it?’ I said, confused. ‘Hasn’t that been done before?’

‘It has?’ he asked, sounding confused himself.

‘Yes, you know, Saint Paul and all that.’

‘Oh, yes. Paul,’ he mumbled. ‘Okay. So how about you take dictation of the Holy Words of the One True God to warn people of the judgement to come?’

‘Hasn’t that been done too?’

‘Has it? Well, what if I throw in some imaginary golden tablets and a couple of magic stones with fancy names? That work for you?’

‘Not really. Haven’t you got any original ideas?

‘Original ideas. Let me think… what about a new cult? What if I said my name was John Frum, or the late Prince Philip even; you could start a brand new cult named after me. It’s worked before.’

I sighed. ‘But that’s I’m trying to tell you. They’ve all been done before. I mean, what is the point of a vision if it’s got nothing new to offer?’

‘Fair enough,’ he said disconsolately. ‘But really, you know, it’s not my fault.’

‘How so?’ I asked, not liking the turn the conversation was taking.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it was you who conjured me up in the first place. Just like Paul and Muhammad, Joseph Smith, the John Frum crowd and any number of others. You and I both know I don’t actually exist. That I’m… well, I’m a malfunction of your brain creating images and voices from the cultural influences around you.’

And I had to concede: he was right.

Lessons from Life 7: Don’t Squander Your Life On Religion

Like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Peter 2.22) I return to religion. I wasted so much of my life being duped by Christianity. As regular readers know, I allowed it to prevent me from living as myself and wasted time and money on it, while switching off my critical faculties to immerse myself in its murky depths.

I know better now. Christianity is built on the visions, dreams and fantasies of first-century zealots who couldn’t distinguish between their hallucinations and reality. They knew nothing about evidence and laboured under the misapprehension that what went on their own heads was as real as what happened outside them. You think I’m overstating the case? Then you don’t know your bible. It proclaims boldly and proudly that this is what faith in the celestial being, known as ‘Saviour’ (the literal meaning of Jesus) is built on:

First, Paul’s psychoses: 

…fourteen years ago (I) was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows – … (I) was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12.2-4. Paul admits he’s prone to hallucinations.)

But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being. (Galatians 1.15-16. Paul talks about how Christ was revealed to him in his head.)

With that in mind, how about this collection of sightings that Paul says were of the same nature as his own:

(The risen Christ) appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Then this claim from decades after the cult got underway, from people who believed themselves to be living in the last days:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream. (Acts 2.17)

And there are all those stories of people wo had to convince themselves that what they saw was really the risen Christ:

After his suffering, (Jesus) presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. (Acts 1.3. Convincing proofs? Didn’t they know it was him?)

Acts has even more these sightings (all of them fictional). They show us nonetheless how the earliest believers thought they experienced the ‘risen Lord’: Stephen ‘sees’ him in glory (Acts 7.55-56), while Paul witnesses a bright light and hears Jesus’s voice in the three contradictory versions of his conversion (Acts 9. 13-19; Acts 22. 6-11; Acts 26.12-18). There’s also the aptly named Revelation, in which Jesus appears only as a wacky apparition.

So, all of Jesus’ appearances in the earliest books of the New Testament are visions within people’s heads. Despite this, we’re expected to believe that his resurrection appearances in the gospels, written decades after Paul’s visions, took place in reality. There really was a man, we’re told, who returned physically from the dead; he materialised inside a locked room (John 20.19), appeared in a variety of unrecognisable forms (Luke 24.15-16, John 20.14-18) vanished at will (Luke 24.51) and soared off into the clouds (Acts 24.50-53). These manifestations of the risen Jesus have all the hallmarks of visions, dreams or hallucinations, just like all those other ‘revelations’ that are clearly described as such. It’s preposterous to promote or believe in the gospel’s resurrection appearances as anything other than imaginative accounts of inner visions.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to base my life on the hallucinations and dreams, real or otherwise, of a few superstitious zealots, nor on later unreliable stories about them; that way Mormonism lies. I know that dreams and fantasies are not real, my own included.

Does this leave me – and you – without hope, purpose or morals? Christians say so, but they’re wrong. It leaves us with a finite life to live to the best of our abilities. It leaves us without an impossible standard to live up to that, God knows, Christians themselves fail miserably to achieve. It frees us from an illusory post-mortem judgement that we’re supposed to live in fear of and instead allows us to be responsible for our own behaviour. It allows us to be happy and free.

 

 

 

The Things I Love: A Conversation with God

This story doesn’t exactly illustrate the principle of not apologising for the things about which we feel passionate, but it’s close enough (just don’t tell God).

‘Well,’ said God, ‘what is it you can’t live without, because I’m thinking maybe I could take it away from you.’

‘God Almighty, why would you do that?’ I said, not having had many conversations with Jehovah and being a little uncertain about how to address him.

‘Well, you know. It’s important to me, what with my fragile ego and all, that nothing takes my place in your affections. Those things that you say you couldn’t live without could very well come between us.’

‘I see,’ I said.

‘And besides,’ God said, ‘I sometimes like to let a person be deprived of everything they hold dear, just to make sure they still believe in me.’

Now it happens I’d once read the story of Job in the Bible so I knew to tread carefully with this particular deity. So I told him first of all that I couldn’t live without Facebook and Twitter. Lo and behold, they instantly disappeared from my life! I was lucky, I guess, that Jehovah wasn’t as omniscient as he liked to claim. He didn’t suspect that it’s really reading I’d find it hard to be without: books, comics, magazines; anything with words, even the ones passed off as God’s own, even though they’re not.

‘Next!’ demanded the Almighty. So I told him of my love for Adele and Rihanna and all those other modern girl singers. And just like that, he removed them from my life too. This didn’t involve too much effort on his part seeing as I didn’t have any of their recordings to begin with. This left me with all the other music in my life – all that potent, cheap music from the sixties, seventies and eighties, which truly I would find it hard to live without.

This was getting trickier. I wanted to keep my family, especially my children and grand-children. Poor old Job was deprived of his – but what to tell God instead? ‘What I really love,’ I said, thinking on my feet, ‘is people who ring me up claiming to be from my bank when they’re not, or try to sell me solar panelling I don’t want or grants for boilers I don’t qualify for. ‘With a word – which sounded very much like ‘poof!’ – everyone in call centres everywhere vanished not only from my life but from the entire world.

‘Right,’ said the Lord, a little too smugly for my liking, ‘we’ve eliminated Facebook and Twitter, girl singers and people on the phone. What else can’t you live without that I should deprive you of?’

‘I’m inordinately fond of wires,’ I fibbed, ‘especially ones that tangle themselves up of their own accord.’ Which of course is all of them.

‘Done!’ said God. ‘They’re gone.’ And then, being careful to avoid mentioning friends I wouldn’t want to live without, I said, ‘I love getting pizza menus through the door, even though I’ve never, ever considered ordering a pizza delivery in my entire life. It’s so thoughtful of whoever it is who thinks I need them in their dozens.’ ‘Well,’ said God, ‘I’d say there are far too many things in your life you love more than me, and I’m more than happy to remove them. No more pizza menus for you.’ And he chuckled to himself.

‘You know, God,’ I said, not wanting to tip him off to the final thing I couldn’t live without, ‘I’d say that religion is the most important thing in my life. Definitely couldn’t live without that.’

Really though, I thought to myself, what no-one can live without – quite literally – as those poor souls with AIDS have discovered, is the human immune system. It’s the only thing keeping the outside out and the inside safe. Even Job, who was inflicted with all manner of diseases, relied on his immune system to survive Jehovah’s unwanted attentions.

God didn’t need to be told twice. He zapped all religion from the world and with it, he too vanished up his own fundamentalism.

And everyone live happily ever after, especially me.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From Life 6: Don’t Apologise For Things You Love

You’ll notice here this series has changed its title half way through, from 12 ‘Rules’ to ‘Lessons From Life’. Seems more appropriate.

Many years ago, when I was still at school, we were all required to give a talk about a hobby or something that we enjoyed doing. Despite being a hormonal teenager, I side-stepped some rather more compelling interests and opted instead to share my passion for reggae music.  

Reggae had reached the UK from Jamaica. Immigrants from the West Indies in the early 60s brought their music with them: ska originally, evolving into reggae over the course of the decade. When I first heard it in the late ‘60s, it had the familiar rhythm with an emphasis on the off beat that Bob Marley would later introduce to the wider world. I didn’t know that’s what it was doing then, of course, nor was it in any way familiar to me, a white middle-class boy in the north of England. I knew instantly  on hearing the opening bars of whichever track I encountered first (I wish I could remember more clearly which it was; either Jimmy Cliff’s Wonderful World, Beautiful People or Harry J’s Liquidator) that I loved it. I still do, whichever it was. 

So to my school talk. I gave some background to the genre and played snippets of different songs on my trusty cassette player, but I did it so apologetically, as if half embarrassed by my love for the music. Reggae wasn’t respectable back then, being seen by cooler kids (and they were all cooler than me) as a medium for throwaway novelty songs. I felt too, although I certainly wouldn’t have put it this way back then, that I was misappropriating another culture’s heritage. I felt a fraud, not being Jamaican myself. All of which is why, after a few minutes, the teacher interrupted my presentation. ‘Never,’ he said, ‘apologise for something you love.’  

While I didn’t then go on to complete my talk with unabashed enthusiasm, I gave a lot of thought to this trendy chap’s wise words (I can’t, alas, remember his name; he wasn’t one of our regular teachers) and eventually incorporated it into my emerging, rather fuzzy philosophy of life. I determine I will never again apologise for anything that means something to me, regardless of what others might think.  

Flash forward 50 years. I write a short piece about my abiding love for reggae music for my writers’ group. Another member happens to be involved in arranging a Black History Month celebration event and is having trouble finding contributors (there aren’t a lot of black people in this part of northern England.) Consequently, she asks me to talk about reggae and play a little of the music, via Bluetooth, at the event. While on the night I feel and admit to being an utter fraud – particularly when quite a few ethnic folk turn up – this time I make no apologies. 

Story for Rule 5: Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours

I try to ensure that the pictures I use on this blog are out of copyright or are otherwise freely available. I try to credit them when that’s possible, though it very often isn’t. I tell you this as it has some relevance to the ‘rule’ Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours. The story that follows is very loosely based on real events.

Barney worked long and hard at the lab. He carried out his research with diligence and wrote up his reports conscientiously. He was committed to the scientific method and evidence. There were no shortcuts as far as Barney was concerned. But he was growing increasingly dissatisfied. Not with the work, nor his colleagues. Nor even the long hours. No, his dissatisfaction stemmed from what happened to his work once it passed out of his hands. He knew it wasn’t uncommon, but nonetheless he was annoyed – no, he was angry – about what went on. His reports passed up the chain for his boss, Professor Jo Ashbridge, to consider and subsequently pass on to the university’s board.

Recently, however, Barney had cause to suspect this was not happening as intended. He’d come across a number of papers in the company’s in-house journal ostensibly written by his boss that read very much like his own work; they had the same vocabulary and phrasing, even the same paragraph breaks and structure. Sure, there were minor differences; a word or two altered here and there, sentences rearranged, though not always for the better, and sometimes a modified abstract. But it was his work nonetheless. What wasn’t there was his name. Instead the papers were credited to Professor Ashbridge and occasionally to a co-author, whom Barney doubted actually existed; he was aware that academics often included the name of a fictitious partner to increase their credibility. Ashbridge hadn’t even had the courtesy to cite Barney as co-author. He could hardly confront his boss. The reports did, after all, have superficial differences and the professor could easily claim that any similarities were entirely coincidental – before contriving to find ways of demoting or firing him.

Barney hit on a plan of sabotaging his own reports. Not so much that anyone would notice. At least not at first. He’d change small points here and there so that, for example, the section numbering wasn’t always sequential. Sure enough, once the report was published in the journal, there was the same error; no-one had picked it up. Then he got bolder. He included blatant untruths, though not to the extent they altered the over-all findings: a made-up name or a reference to a non-existent scientist. Finally, he added, deep within the report’s discussion of results, and without any surrounding context, the line: it is immoral to lift another person’s work and pass it off as your own. He was more than pleased when this survived, in tact, in the published paper. It was then a short step to query, innocently and under a pseudonym, about its inclusion, and that of all previous errors, in the professor’s papers.

And the result? After a lengthy enquiry and the professor’s admission of guilt, his publications were withdrawn and the real author tracked down. By then, however, Barney had moved on to better things: a post in an institution with less compromised ethical standards.

Professor Ashbridge quietly stepped down to spend more time with her family and garden.

Rule 5: Don’t Take What Isn’t Yours

Back when I was headteacher (principal) of a small school, children would frequently fall out over their belongings. They would ‘borrow’ or swipe one another’s pens, pencils, erasers, stickers… you name it. Trauma would usually ensue, and much time wasted (theirs and mine) in locating and returning disputed items. It became apparent we needed to take steps to save all this time and trauma, and the cause of these, namely interfering with others’ property. Together, the children and I arrived at one of the most effective rules ever devised: don’t take what isn’t yours.

The rule worked very successfully in school and equally well in life.

While obviously ‘don’t take what isn’t yours’ includes do not steal, it involves so much more: do not do anything that would rob others of their peace of mind or sense of well-being: do not take advantage of someone else, do not (mis)use them for your own pleasure or advancement: do not deprive others of life, liberty or happiness.

Expressed more positively, take only those things that you have earned, won, negotiated, paid for or which have been freely given to you.

Why do this? After all, as Christians are fond of saying, with no God to keep us on the straight and narrow, why should atheists feel any compunction to treat others fairly? From whence comes our moral compass? Certainly it doesn’t come from a non—existent deity. The golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, while usually credited to Jesus is a much older principle, predating him by as much as 2000 years.

I would venture to say any such principle comes from within ourselves; it’s part of our nature as social animals. I have no issue with the view it is the result of social conditioning. That it originates or is reinforced by the socialising process we undergo as children does not invalidate the compunction to treat others fairly.

There are those, of course, who have no such compunction, and even those of us who do aren’t always successful in exercising it. The socialising process isn’t wholly effective, 100% of the time. But it’s good enough. It points us in the right direction; it’s an ideal, an aspiration. It’s a good way to be, which is enough in itself. It doesn’t guarantee that the consideration will automatically be reciprocated (though in my experience it makes it more likely) but nonetheless it comes with its own rewards: a sense of integrity, peace of mind, the trust and respect of others. Plus it keeps you out of trouble.